Sears has withstood repeated challenges from lawyers seeking to unseat her. She describes her tenure on Georgia's top court as the most rewarding time of her career. "But I believe that if we stop challenging ourselves, life can become a rut," she said in an interview last year when she said she was going to leave the court.
Throughout much of her life, Sears has broken gender and racial barriers. In 2005, she became the nation's first African-American woman to preside over a state Supreme Court.
Sears was born in Heidelberg, Germany, where her father was stationed overseas. She attended a number of schools as a young girl before graduating from Savannah High School.
After getting her law degree, Sears worked as an attorney for the firm Alston & Bird.
In 1982, only 27 at the time, Sears was named Atlanta traffic court judge. She served as a Fulton County Superior Court judge —- and was the first black woman to sit on that court. Gov. Zell Miller appointed her to the Georgia Supreme Court in February 1992. At that time, Sears was the first African-American woman and youngest justice ever to serve on the state's high court.