A U.S. Supreme Court justice was welcomed back to his home state Tuesday by Georgia dignitaries and others gathered at the most expensive government building ever erected in the state.
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas delivered the keynote speech at the dedication of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center. The south Georgia native known as the quiet justice for rarely asking questions during court proceedings was hailed Tuesday for sticking to his convictions while presiding in the nation’s highest court.
Tuesday’s event attracted some of the state’s top officials, including Gov. Brian Kemp, the building’s namesake former Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Chris Carr, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold Melton.
Several hundred people gathered inside a large tent pitched on the front porch of the $131 million downtown Atlanta building.
The 71-year-old Thomas now resides in Virginia, but the Pin Point native said Georgia will always be home.
“I will always consider myself a Georgian at heart and in spirit and a son of the soil,” Thomas said. “But I’m particularly honored to be here this morning, to be a part of this dedication of this critical and important building.”
Judges have their own prejudices but must make sure they don’t make decisions that undermine justice. That hasn’t always been the case throughout the nation’s history, Thomas said. He recalled a stain in Georgia’s past to make his point.
“I fully believe that one of the reasons segregation endured was due not only to prejudices and a lack of understanding, but also to a lack of courage, among those who knew, or should have known that, especially in the judicial branch,” he said.
Prior to Thomas’ speech, Kemp and Melton noted the significance of his return to Georgia.
“Justice Thomas is a complex and varied man of courage and conviction,” Melton said.
They also praised Deal for his push for money to build the center and for his legacy of criminal justice reform.
State Supreme Court justices, Appeals Court judges and staff moved into the center named after the former governor in December.
The new center recaptures some of the stunning architecture of many older courthouses, Deal said.
“This building, hopefully, will be regarded as a symbol that Georgia is a state that believes in part of its motto being justice,” he said. The state motto is “Wisdom, Justice and Moderation.”
The center is the first state building solely dedicated to the judiciary. It replaces the 1956 Mitchell Street courthouse plagued by plumbing, heating and security concerns.
“They’ve outgrown those old courthouses and with all due respect to modern architecture, none of the new ones can reach the majesty of the old,” Deal said “But this is an exception. It is one that I hope all of us will be proud of for a very long time.”