The road to this landmark appointment wasn’t smooth, easy or without racially tinged controversy, but it’s official: The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that Bernette Johnson should be the state’s first black chief justice.
The decision follows a dispute over whether her years of appointed service on the high court gave her the seniority required for the role, with Justice Jeffrey Victory, who is white, arguing that that service shouldn’t be counted. From the Huffington Post:
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.
Read more at the Huffington Post.