Justice Johnson Would be the Court’s First African-American Chief Justice

New York, New York—The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) filed a friend of the court brief in Chisom v. Jindal, in support of claims that Justice Bernette Johnson is next in line to succeed the current chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court, becoming the first African-American chief justice.   

After current Chief Justice Catherine Kimball announced her retirement in May, 2012, Justice Johnson announced her intention to assemble a transition team to prepare for her succession to the position of Chief Justice. 

Shortly after Justice Johnson’s announcement, the Louisiana Supreme Court issued an order that in effect questions Justice Johnson’s seniority.  

“Justice Johnson has served the longest on the Louisiana Supreme Court after Chief Justice Kimball,” said Debo P. Adegbile, LDF’s Acting President and Director-Counsel. “The Louisiana Constitution provides that the judge with the most time on the Supreme Court shall be chief justice.  By that measure, and all others, Justice Johnson should be the next chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  This is not a close call.” 

In 1992, a federal consent judgment, shaped by a United States Supreme Court ruling, provided a remedy for racial discrimination in Louisiana’s election of its Supreme Court justices, and temporarily created an additional seat for a judge who would be elected from Orleans Parish and then assigned to the Supreme Court.   This additional seat was referred to as the “Chisom” seat.     

The consent judgment provided that the Chisom justice would have the same authority, rights, and duties as the other justices, and that the tenure spent as the Chisom judge would count toward seniority on the Supreme Court.   Justice Johnson was elected as a Chisom judge in 1994 and has been reelected from her permanent seat in 2000 and 2010.

Justice Jeffery Victory claims that he is senior to Justice Johnson because her years as a Chisom judge do not count toward her seniority. 

“Denying Justice Johnson, and the voters in the majority-Black Orleans Parish who elected her, the duties and powers associated with her seniority would violate the court order and undermine the Voting Rights Act,” said Ryan Haygood, Director of LDF’s Political Participation Group.