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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Georgia Supreme Court Presiding Justice Leah Ward Sears both hail from Southeast Georgia — just down the road from each other’s hometowns. But the two jurists are considered to be miles apart on legal issues such as anti-sodomy laws.That was one reason some were surprised to learn Thursday that Sears had invited Thomas to speak at the June 28 ceremony in which she will become the state high court’s chief justice.Sadie Fields of the Christian Coalition of Georgia, a critic of Sears, found the choice ironic.”I think it’s wonderful Justice Thomas is going to be speaking at this auspicious occasion,” she said, adding, “Hopefully, some of his strict constructionist views will rub off on her.”Sears was an early judicial opponent of the state’s anti-sodomy laws, which the Georgia high court struck down in 1997. Two years earlier she had decried that a decision upholding the law against solicitation of sodomy “eviscerates the rights of privacy and free speech.” Christensen v. State, 266 Ga. 474 (1995).Thomas dissented from the U.S. high court’s 2003 ruling that struck down Texas’ anti-sodomy law, joining Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion calling the majority decision a result of “the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.”Thomas added in his own opinion that if he were a member of the Texas Legislature, he would have voted to repeal the law: “Punishing someone for expressing his sexual preference through noncommercial consensual conduct with another adult does not appear to be a worthy way to expend valuable law enforcement resources.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003).Thomas could not be reached, but Sears doesn’t like being painted with broad strokes, she said in an interview Thursday.”I just think I’m me. I think me is so-called liberal on some things, a conservative on some things and right down the middle on everything else,” she said.She said she considers Thomas a friend, and she has spoken to him on several occasions about how their courts operate and about growing up black in the South, she said. She also has visited him at his chambers in Washington. “When I got this honor, I asked him if he’d come home and stand beside me. He agreed, and I was thrilled,” she said.Though she wouldn’t cite specific issues, she said it’s only common sense that any justices have disagreements, but hers and Thomas’ agendas are not radically different, she said.”If he were Saddam Hussein, he wouldn’t be at my swearing-in,” Sears quipped. Sears’ supporters have no qualms about Thomas delivering remarks at her investiture.State Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, who donated to Sears’ 2004 campaign, said, “I think it’s an honor for her to have a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court make comments on her ascension to the chief justice spot.”Gerald R. Weber Jr., legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, said there’s a good reason for the indifference: Dissecting justices based on their opinions is neither an easy nor a scientific task.”I think the notion of pigeonholing justices into corners is something people like to do, but I don’t see any place for it,” Weber said. Sears is accused of being liberal, Weber said, but she recently voted against one of his First Amendment cases involving recall petitions. “She’s been with us, and she’s been against us.”And where Thomas’ stances on anti-sodomy laws do not jibe with the ACLU’s, Weber said, “If I have a commercial free speech case, there’s no one I’d rather have on the Supreme Court than Justice Thomas hearing that case.”Sears spent some of her youth in Savannah, about 12 miles north of Pin Point, Thomas’ birthplace. Sears was appointed to the high court in 1992 by then-Gov. Zell Miller. She was the first woman and youngest person ever to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court and has been the court’s presiding justice since 2001.President George H.W. Bush appointed Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1991. He had served previously on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.At Tuesday’s ceremony, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young is scheduled to administer Sears’ oath of office. Justice Carol W. Hunstein will be sworn in to fill Sears’ spot as presiding justice of the court. Outgoing Chief Justice Norman S. Fletcher, whose retirement set up Sears’ and Hunstein’s promotions, will administer the oath to Hunstein. The event, scheduled for 3 p.m. at the state Capitol, will be Webcast on the Georgia Supreme Court’s Web site. Staff reporter Jonathan Ringel contributed to this report.

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