Alumni named to 11th Circuit, Georgia Supreme Court

On April 10, 2018, President Donald Trump nominated alumna Judge Britt Cagle Grant (’96) to succeed the retiring Judge Julie Carnes on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Four months later, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal appointed alumna Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren (’00) to fill Grant’s previous position on Georgia’s Supreme Court. Grant and Warren have both been sworn in and now preside over their respective courts.

Although the process of lower court appointments has been largely overshadowed by Trump’s appointment of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, the lower courts remain a necessary part of America’s legal system.

There are several different levels of courts that allow the federal legal system to function, the most important being the US Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in the nation. Below the Supreme Court come the 13 Courts of Appeals, which hear challenges to the decisions of 94 different district courts. The appeals courts consist of 12 active judges and several senior judges (usually a panel of three hear cases) and do not use a jury, as their task is to determine whether or not the law was applied correctly in the district courts. If a more important case is brought up, sometimes it will be heard en banc, which means all 12 judges will be present for the hearing.

Grant is one of three judges on the 11th Circuit, which presides over Georgia, Alabama, and Florida.

Speaking about her role on the Appeals court, Grant realizes that there are often misconceptions about the roles of appellate courts: “Unlike what you ordinarily see on TV, we’re not in a courtroom every day with a jury and a defendant,” said Grant. “What we do is once that trial has already happened in the district court, the losing side may decide that there was a legal mistake of some sort, and they file an appeal. We on the 11th circuit decide the outcome of those appeals.”

The Georgia legal system functions very much in the same way, with a Supreme Court presiding over the Georgia Court of Appeals and dozens of state courts. Warren will fill fellow Wildcat Grant’s seat as one of nine justices on the Georgia Supreme Court.

Both Grant and Warren left positive impressions on the teachers that knew them from their time at Westminster.  Although they both graduated more than a decade ago, several faculty members were able to recall teaching and developing relationships with the two alumni.

Former assistant headmaster Scoot Dimon said of Grant: “I never taught [Grant], but in her time at Westminster she was always a familiar smiling face, and the faculty that I know who taught her always held her in high esteem.” Grant named several other teachers as having a positive influence on her during her tenure at Westminster, but all are since retired and could not be reached for comment.

Grant earned her bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University, and later her law degree from Stanford University. She worked for the Bush administration in the White House, and served as a law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She has received praise from many high-ranking officials throughout her tenure on different courts.

“Throughout her legal career … Britt Grant was always at the top of her class,” said Senator Johnny Isakson in an interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle. “Justice Grant is an outstanding jurist and has served our state with distinction and integrity.”

After graduating from Westminster, Warren earned her bachelor’s and law degree from Duke University and Duke Law school, and went on to occupy several roles in the judicial field, including succeeding Grant as Georgia’s solicitor general. In addition to her roles in Georgia’s judicial system, Warren has also clerked for members of the 11th Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Since Warren graduated four years later than Grant, there are several members of the current faculty that were able to speak about her time at the school.

“She was always very mature, very sincere…the fact that she has done so well professionally doesn’t surprise me at all,” said Bible teacher George Berry, who knew Warren through the schools’ Christian life programs. English teacher Frank Finsthwait recalls teaching her during a fifth-grade tennis camp, and said coaching her was “a vivid memory for me in my 17 years of running the camp.”

Warren left a lasting impression on Dimon, who taught her in seventh grade history and helped her start the Mount Kenya Academy exchange program. “We had a debate between the Tories and the Radicals about the American revolution, and a unanimous vote made Say-Say (Sarah’s nickname) the speaker on the Radical side,” Dimon said about his history class. “She was very driven, very passionate, and her team ended up winning the debate. I can remember how fun she was to this day.”

One of her biggest contributions to the school, Mr. Dimon credits her as the “primary reason we started the Mount Kenya Academy program.”

Though the program didn’t begin until her senior year, it had been on her mind throughout her time at Westminster.

“My pre-first teacher came in with these really cool necklaces with African animals on them, and she would tell us about how she visited a school in Kenya over the summer,” said Warren. “At some point towards the end of high school, it occurred to me that even though we would send teachers and supplies over, we never had any student relationship with our sister school in Kenya.”

Her senior year, she approached Dimon, Jere Wells, and Dr. Bill Clarkson about taking a group of students to Kenya during senior spring break. “It was a wonderful first trip” said Warren. “That ultimately led to us starting a more formal relationship with them.”

Having left lasting impacts on the Westminster community, Grant and Warren believe that their experiences in high school played a large part in preparing them for their future positions.

“The values of Westminster really taught me to approach things with the perspective of public service,” said Grant, who has a daughter in first grade at Westminster. “It taught me from an early age that it’s good and exciting to develop all of the gifts you have been given to reach your highest potential, but always be thinking of others and not just yourself. It’s been really meaningful to my career.”

“The intellectual curiosity that Westminster instills… the whole ethos of the place is what prepares anybody for any kind of job like this,” said Warren.

Grant and Warren are perfect examples of how members of the Westminster family can become influential leaders of conscience in today’s world. We look forward to seeing the positive impact that these Wildcats will have on our community.