Bernette J. Johnson Next Louisiana Chief Justice?

Gov. Bobby Jindal vows to block her supreme court appointment

Bernette J. Johnson, associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

A U.S. District Court Judge in New Orleans has ruled that Louisiana Associate Supreme Court Justice Bernette J. Johnson should become the first African-American chief justice of the state’s supreme court. But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said he is appealing the lower court ruling to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans to overturn the district court decision. In a 50-page decision, Judge Susie Morgan ruled on Sept. 1, 2012, in the case titled Ronald Chisom, et al versus Bobby Jindal, et al., that Justice Johnson could succeed Chief Justice Catherine Kimball, a white woman, who announced that she plans to retire effective Jan. 31, 2013. Louisiana’s constitution’s calls for the supreme court’s longest-serving justice to be sworn in as the next chief justice. Justice Johnson, a Spelman College graduate and Louisiana State University law school graduate, was sworn in as an associate supreme court justice on Nov. 16. 1994. “Johnson initially was appointed to the court. The other supreme court justices argued that her first six years on the job should not count toward her seniority.” The next in line for Chief Justice Kimball’s job is Justice Jeffrey Victory, a white man, who was sworn in as an associate Justice on Jan. 1, 1995. Johnson was initially appointed to the court as part of the Louisiana’s settlement with the federal government over racial discrimination. The Aug. 21, 1992, consent decree expanded the supreme court to seven justices from six. Because Johnson was appointed to the court, the other supreme court justices argued that her first six years on the job should not count toward her seniority. She was elected to the court without opposition in 2000. Johnson filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jindal, demanding that her full tenure on the court be reaffirmed. “Justice Johnson believes that the Consent Judgement provides that the time she served from November 16, 1994, to October 7, 2000, when she was elected as an Associate Justice for the newly created Seventh Supreme Court District, is to be credited to her tenure for all purposes, including determining Justice Kimball’s successor,” Judge Morgan wrote. “If Justice Johnson’s tenure during this time is not credited, Justice Victory will be the next Chief Justice, followed by Justice Jeannette Knoll, who was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 1997.” Lawyers for Gov. Jindal filed a motion to dismiss Johnson’s motions, arguing the district court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case.  
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