COVINGTON, Ga. – U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas joined local officials and Newton County citizens Friday morning to dedicate the new addition to the Newton County Judicial Center.
The $11 million addition was paid for using funds from the county’s 2011 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. Board of Commissioners Chairman Marcello Banes called the occasion “a great day for Newton County.”
Banes thanked Judge Samuel Ozburn for his work in the project, along with Kathy Morgan, who was BOC chair in 2011 when the project was put on the list of SPLOST projects. He also thanked former commissioners Tim Fleming and Mort Ewing and the current members of the board of commissioners.
Banes also thanked Newton County’s citizens who voted to approve the SPLOST.
“We want to thank the citizens of Newton County,’ he said. “It’s because of your efforts and going to the polls and supporting the SPLOST that we are able to do projects like this in our community. So I want to take this opportunity to say ‘Thank You.’”
After a welcome and acknowledgements from Judge Horace Johnson, Chief Justice Harold Melton of the Georgia Supreme Court introduced Justice Thomas.
Justice Thomas, a Georgia native, talked about what is required to preserve liberty and justice.
“As I think of the issues that may be raised and the challenges to be confronted in this building in the years to come, I encourage my fellow judges who are here to stay true to their principles and to withstand the pressures from those whose interests do not always include upholding the law.
“Judicial independence is critical to liberty and justice. In our great country, the judiciary is not a puppet for those in power. Nor is it the engine for pioneering social change. Rather, it a safeguard against tyranny and an assurance of neutral arbiters for those seeking the protection of the law.”
Thomas said that judges have a responsibility to remain impartial in upholding of the law.
“A judge’s commitment to neutrality, to neutrally applying the law to the facts is as important today as it ever was,” he said. “It is becoming increasingly common for public opinion to galvanize behind particular outcomes and around particular interests without regard for the law or an objective assessment of the facts.
“Advancing a narrative all too often becomes more important than the rule of law and it can be tempting for us as judges to want to fit into that narrative or to confuse what we perceive as a just outcome with the justice that the law requires. And that flows from being fair and impartial.
“As judges, we have a sacred duty to resist that temptation. Our calling and our oath is not to be popular, but to be faithful in applying the law in a fair manner and an impartial manner.”
Thomas said the commitment to the rule of law is not limited to judges. He said community members called to serve as jurors have the same duty to faithfully execute the law as judges.
“The right to a jury trial is fundamental to the search for truth and the protection to our liberty,” he said. “Indeed, jury trials were so important to our founders that the failure to guarantee the right to a jury trial in federal civil suits almost prevented the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.
“The State of Georgia guaranteed the right to trial by jury in its first constitution in 1777 and Georgia’s constitution preserves that right to this day.”
Thomas said the benefits of freedom and liberty come with responsibilities. He said jury service is one of those responsibilities.
“The liberty we cherish requires a coordinate effort from all citizens. Jury service is a small but important part of that effort and it affords all members of the community great and small the enormous honor and responsibility of participating in the administration of justice for their fellow citizens.
“So, to me, this building serves not just as a reflection of this community’s commitment to liberty and justice, but also a monument to the role that each member of the community will play in securing those ideals.”
As he closed his remarks, Justice Thomas said, “Today, we celebrate the expansion of the building that will provide the setting for important, if not critical work. Its architecture will surely bring well deserved pride to all who work here.
“But when it’s all said and done, the true beauty of this building will be in its affirmation to all who enter that they can expect to find in this building, behind this wall, the rule of law. And through its equal and fair application, that they can find the justice to which we are all entitled.
“And that, in the end, is equal justice under law.”