It’s About Time! Bernette Johnson To Be Louisiana’s First Black Chief Justice

October 17, 2012  |  

Let’s hear it for Bernette Johnson, the woman the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday should be the state’s first black chief justice.

According to The Huffington Post:

Johnson’s years of appointed and elected service on the high court give her the seniority to succeed Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball early next year, the court said in a unanimous ruling. Justice Jeffrey Victory, who is white, argued Johnson’s appointed service shouldn’t count and he deserved to be chief justice.

Voters elected Johnson in 1994 to the state appeals court, and she was assigned to the Supreme Court as part of settlement of an earlier lawsuit that claimed the system for electing justices diluted black voting strength and violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

She served an eighth Supreme Court district centered in New Orleans until the court reverted back to seven districts in 2000, when she was elected to the high court.

A number of organizations, like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, elected officials, and civil rights activists across the country spoke out in support of Johnson. In its ruling, though, the court said none of that protest weighed in on their decision.

“Although commentators have loudly emphasized them, factors which we do not ascribe any importance to in answering the constitutional question before us include issues of gender, geography, personality, philosophy, political affiliation, and race – all of which have the potential to inflame passion.”

As the Post added:

Victory joined the court in 1995, a year after Johnson, but said her years of appointed service shouldn’t count when deciding which justice is “oldest in point of service” under the state constitution. The court disagreed….

In July, Johnson filed a federal lawsuit after her colleagues said they would debate the matter. U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan ruled Johnson had more seniority, but stopped short of ordering the state’s highest court to name Johnson as Kimball’s successor.

Now it would seem that point is mute, but Johnson isn’t completely out of the woods yet. Opposers still have five days to request that the court reconsider their decision. The expected Chief Justice is counting her victory now, though. Her attorney, James Williams, said of the outcome:

“It means she can put this bitter fight behind her and begin to unify the judiciary,” he said. “This is not a fight that Justice Johnson went looking for. We all wish this result could have happened without the fighting.”


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