NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana Supreme Court resolved a racially-tinged power struggle inside its own ranks, ruling Tuesday that Bernette Johnson should be the state's first black chief justice.
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.
The racial dynamics of the case reverberated outside Louisiana. A long list of elected officials and civil rights advocates, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, called for Johnson to get the position. The New York Times published two editorials supporting her, one of which called the dispute an "unsettling example of how power can trample voting rights even where they should be sacrosanct."
The court said its ruling was based strictly on the law.
"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," the court said.
James Williams, one of Johnson's attorneys, said his client was thrilled.
"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."
Any requests for the court to reconsider must be filed within five days. An attorney for Victory didn't immediately return a call seeking comment.
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.
"Both election and appointment are described by the constitution as legitimate methods to commence service on this court," its opinion said.
Johnson, Victory and a third judge who stood to be second-in-line if Victory's argument prevailed were recused from the dispute. Three state appeals court judges sat in their place and made the ruling along with four other justices.
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.
Lawyers for Gov. Bobby Jindal's office have asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review Morgan's Sept. 1 ruling. A lawyer for Jindal has said the governor wasn't taking a position on which justice should succeed Kimball but believed the state Supreme Court should decide the matter.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the federal case was moot in light of Tuesday's decision.
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (11/26-12/2)
30 photos Launch gallery
1. Little Legend and Puddy 😍😍😍😍
1 of 30
2. "You on point Phife?" "all the time,Tip". 💥 #bannedfromnormal
2 of 30
3. Vegan! The Impossible burger at Crossroads
3 of 30
4. Lawrence #BeforeandAfterEpisodes 1-4: 184lbs 13% body fatEpisode 8: 196lbs 8% body fat S/O @coachdaveboxing with the works outs and @kildareriordan with the nutrition
4 of 30
5. Jus haaaanngin out
5 of 30
6. Meanwhile back at home in Atlanta GA someone mad they not on the 🛳. 😳
6 of 30
7. No limits... Photo cred: Chris Bridges @ludacris
7 of 30
8. new new
8 of 30
9. Apparently my 260lbs is too much for the actual vines in the Hawaiian jungles to hold me without breaking and me falling hundreds of feet. So for safety purposes, I'm forced to swing thru #Jumanjj on wires strong enough to hold 12 adult buffaloes and 1 adult Rock. #OnSet #Jumanji #IronicallyIEatBuffaloDailyForLunch #MoreManThanNatureKnowsWhatToDoWith
9 of 30
10. hey ma! 🎎#wcw 💙
10 of 30
11. Surprise visit to our factories!!! #GoodAmerican #USA
11 of 30
12 of 30
13. Peachy Keen 🔥✨⚡️
13 of 30
14. If this don't look thankful I don't know what does. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours. #UltraBlessed #24kMagic #SweetPotatoFly
14 of 30
15. Late nights @nbcmarlon with the writers... we in here!!!
15 of 30
16. There goes my baaaaaaaaabbbbyyyyy #QueenKingMagic!!! We're up to something! Ira BIG!!! Stay out our buisness -
16 of 30
17. You want to win every game you play but when you come home to these faces... who cares. #ILoveYouGirls best part of my day, everyday!
17 of 30
18. Steady,steady..... full size jenga.. "I got this one "???? Or do I ?
18 of 30
19. Cornrows kind of day 😉@dontaysavoy2 you convinced me and I love. ❤️️
19 of 30
20. #BrotherlyLove #tbt
20 of 30
21 of 30
22. #basel #TeamLOVE @kingcombs
22 of 30
23. Just introduced a special screening of @directher 's groundbreaking (must see) documentary @13thfilm with my brother @themichaelealy | @unitedblackout #blackoutblackfriday
23 of 30
24. Me & Vanessa Williams giving #DuckLips #Pose on the set of #DaytimeDivas @vh1 - Coming Soon to a tv near you. Lol. - My make up done by @makeupsurgeon
24 of 30
25. This picture just makes me wanna praise the Lord, you hear me!!!!!! Yes Lord brotha #TEDDYCAMPBELL What a #man !!! You are everything right on this picture husband ......... #gorgeous #stylish #classy #strong #masculine #king #sexy #debonair #gentlemenstyle And that #bible in your hand just seals the deal for me (probably cause i know that, that is what helped you become just as amazing as you look😘). While my heart and mind experiences the goodness of God at #church on Sundays, my eyes experiences the goodness of Teddy😍. Amen somebody🙌🏽. "Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name" #myman #myhusband #goodman #blackman #dapperman #godlyman #goodfather #mybestfriend
25 of 30
26. Yesterday was my mama's 53rd birthday!!!!! Got to celebrate with her all day. If this is what I have to look forward to I can't wait. Looking like a soft bucket a cocoa butter. Yaaaaaaaaaas! 😍😍😍 love you mommy!
26 of 30
27. "Shout out to @PureAtlanta for getting the family right"....I'm loving this jogger. 😍😍
27 of 30
28. This pic warms my heart ❤️ #myLogiebeans and aunt aunt umba @itowandabraxton 😘
28 of 30
29. You will always be my baby😜. #HappyBirthdayReginae #mybaby18
29 of 30
30. GC "Gods Child" Red on Red SweatSuit available now at www.MonicaApparel.com ... Take Your Crown wherever you go!! I'm pictured in a Medium... Go to the site now for other options ... cc: @trukernell
30 of 30