Reprint from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
July 20, 2021
Five years ago, then-Bibb County Judge Verda Colvin gave an impassioned lecture in her courtroom to at-risk youth, telling them to “stop acting like trash.” The speech quickly made Colvin an internet sensation as it was captured on video and went viral.
On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp appointed Colvin to fill a vacancy on Georgia’s highest court. She will replace Harold Melton, who recently resigned from the state Supreme Court to enter private practice.
“It is an honor to appoint such an experienced and accomplished justice to our state’s Supreme Court,” Kemp said. “With Justice Colvin on the bench, Georgia’s highest court is gaining an immensely talented and principled judge who will help guide it in the years to come.”
Colvin, an Atlanta native, is a former state and federal prosecutor who once sat on the Superior Court bench in Macon. In March 2020, Kemp appointed her to the Georgia Court of Appeals, making her the first Black woman appointed to the court by a Republican governor. Colvin is also a member of the investigative panel for the state’s judicial watchdog agency.
“The Supreme Court congratulates and welcomes Judge Colvin,” said Chief Justice David Nahmias. “Given her background and experience, including many years as a Court of Appeals and trial court judge, we are confident that she is eminently qualified to serve on the state’s highest court.”
Kemp also announced he is appointing Andrew Pinson, the state’s solicitor general, to fill Colvin’s seat on the Appeals Court. At the Attorney General’s Office, Pinson oversaw appeals and high-profile litigation. He once served as a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
In a separate move, Kemp named Public Service Commissioner Chuck Eaton to a vacant seat on the Fulton County Superior Court bench. That move opens a vacancy for the Public Service Commission, a sought-after statewide post. It’s not immediately clear who he will tap to the position, though Cobb County businessman Fitz Johnson is expected to be appointed.
As a first-term governor, Kemp has left his mark on the state’s highest court, which was expanded from seven to nine justices under his predecessor, Gov. Nathan Deal. Over his two terms, Deal tapped a majority of the court’s bench. With three appointments in the last year, Kemp is on a similar pace.
Kemp was under pressure to tap another jurist who would increase the diversity of the court. Melton was the only Black justice on the bench and one of only three African-American justices in its history. Kemp’s appointment of Colvin is in keeping with his prior appointments that have diversified the state’s judiciary.
Colvin unwittingly made a name for herself on March 25, 2016, when she addressed a group of kids aged 9 to 17, admonishing them to respect themselves.
During the nine-minute lecture, Colvin told the youths if they didn’t change their ways, they would have the “ultimate experience.” Exasperated, she reached down, pulled out a cadaver pouch and laid in out in front of her.
“You can be in this body bag,” she said. “And the only way somebody will know you are in here is by this tag that’ll have your name on it. What do you want to do? That’s the question you need to ask yourself.”
The youths were in Colvin’s courtroom as part of the Sheriff’s Department’s “Consider the Consequences” program, which shows at-risk students what the court system and jails are like. Colvin did not mince words, warning those in attendance about sexual assaults against people put in jail or sent to prison.
“The only person stopping you is you,” Colvin said. “Do better than what you’ve been doing. Do you understand me?”
Colvin told the attendees they were special and “uniquely made.” She pleaded with them to not to use unstable family situations as an excuse because many from similar backgrounds overcame them and graduated from college.
“I’m sick of seeing young men who look like you all … coming in this court system and going to jail for something stupid,” she said. “Get yourselves together. Stop this. Why would you want to be another statistic?”
Toward the end of Colvin’s talk, deputies were handing out tissues to a number of youths who were crying. Colvin herself wiped tears from her eyes as she left the courtroom.
At the time, Colvin did not know the event was being recorded. After the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office put the video on its Facebook page, it was viewed hundreds of thousands of times and picked up by local, national and international media. Some school teachers played it for their students.
In a prior interview, Colvin said she initially was “a little miffed” she was being recorded without her knowledge, noting most judges don’t want to be shown being so passionate and raw.
“It was meant to be private,” she said. “I do what I do from the heart and I am committed. I don’t want people to take what I did out of context and I don’t want the kids to think I was doing it for show. But I am glad that it is out there and touching people.”