Justice Bernette Johnson joined the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1994, elected to a special seat created to remedy racial disparities in Louisiana’s justice system. Now, she’s the lone black Supreme Court justice in a state where nearly one-third of residents are black.
The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled October 16th that Bernette Johnson should be the state’s first Black chief justice. The racially tinged power struggle inside its own ranks glossed over Johnson’s years of appointed and elected service, yet thankfully her seniority allowed Johnson to succeed Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball early next year, according to the court’s unanimous ruling. Justice Jeffrey Victory, who is White, argued Johnson’s appointed service shouldn’t count and that he deserved to be chief justice. The racial implications reverberated outside of Louisiana. A long list of elected officials and civil rights advocates, including the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, called for Johnson to get the position.
Johnson, who served an eighth Supreme Court district centered in New Orleans, was there until the courts reverted back to seven districts in 2000, when she was originally elected to the high court. The court, facing opposition from other sides, said that its ruling was based strictly on the law.