Judge John Allen drew a picture for me. He started with an outline of the state of Georgia. Then he drew a vertical line from the border of Tennessee to the border of Florida, splitting the state. After that, he put a dot just over the right side of the line. "That's Atlanta," he said.
When he finished drawing, Judge Allen pointed to the area on the left side of the line. "I am the only African American sitting on a Superior Court bench on this side of the state," he said.
Having seen that stark image, I was not surprised when I heard that Judge Allen set pen to paper to urge the governor to consider race and gender when makes his appointments to the Chattahoochee Judicial Circuit this year. Nor was I surprised by some people's reactions to Judge Allen's memo.
Judge Allen is more than capable of speaking for himself, so I don't suggest that I have to speak for him. However, I do think it should be said that those who took offense to Judge Allen's memo misread his intent.
Judge Allen did not suggest that the governor should appoint someone to the bench only because he or she is a minority. Rather, he asserted that the racial and gender makeup of the bench should be one factor that Gov. Nathan Deal considers when making his final decision. Judge Allen loves the law. He would never encourage the governor to appoint someone to the bench who would not, or could not, mete out justice fairly and correctly. Judge Allen did, however, challenge the governor to acknowledge that there are minority attorneys in our circuit who are highly qualified and capable of upholding the dignity and standards of the bench. In fact, he has done that his entire career. Judge Allen has made it a point to shine a light on the outstanding body of work of minority members of the Bar.
And, in large part, that is why he is held in such high esteem. Over his career on the bench, Judge Allen demonstrated a demeanor, grace and grit that set a high standard for every jurist in our circuit. While serving, he also worked to help build the capacity of other minority attorneys so they would be prepared to serve the public in like manner. Now, as he prepares to depart, he is championing those minority attorneys who are ready to serve to insure they are not overlooked. Others may think he is wrong for doing so, but I have no problem with it.
Karl Douglass, Columbus native and resident, is a frequent commenter on local, state and federal politics. Follow him on Twitter@KarlDouglass or facebook.com/karldouglass.