Former Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at the dedication of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center
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Former Gov. Nathan Deal speaks at the dedication of the Nathan Deal Judicial Center

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said the new state court building in Atlanta is a “majestic” building that pays homage to both the rule of law and the criminal justice reforms enacted by former Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

At a dedication ceremony for the 6-story, 6-acre building Tuesday, the Georgia-born jurist said that Georgia leaders must look ahead to ensure that people continue to be treated fairly under the eyes of the law.

“It is my sincere and profound hope that it will become a true and bold symbol of liberty and equality for future generations,” he said. “As magnificent as this building is now, what is done within its walls in the years to come will ultimately define it and us.”

Deal’s two terms in office were highlighted by several preventive efforts to cut back on crime instead of bring harsher penalties, including a number of accountability courts.

“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, tears welling at the corner of his eyes. “This is a facility in which the people of this state, and their legal representatives will come seeking justice.”

The judicial center sits on the site of the old Georgia archives building, imploded in 2017 to make way for the first state building solely dedicated to the courts. In all, construction cost about $130 million, one of the costliest buildings in the state.

Thomas, currently the longest-serving justice on the Supreme Court, warned the tent full of elected officials that the judiciary must keep itself aligned with the rule of law and not let biases creep into rulings.

“As imperfect and flawed human beings, none of us is immune from these temptations, and in recognition of this reality we judges especially must be disciplined and on guard to ensure that we do not overstep our bounds,” he intoned. “Each time a judge sidesteps or manipulates the law to achieve his or her desired outcome, the rule of law suffers and is undermined and eventually, compromised.”

Gov. Brian Kemp, who is currently locked in a battle with the legislature over the fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, said that naming the building after Deal was a testament to the changes Georgia has made to its legal system.

“His work fundamentally changed the way we view nonviolent offenders, winning support from both sides of the aisle, and it set a standard across our country,” he said. “His dedication to the redemption and rehabilitation of state prison inmates reaffirms the value that we place on second chances in our state.”