Bernette Johnson and Old, Racist Arguments

There was no reason to question the appointment of Bernette Johnson as Louisiana's first black chief justice, argues Jarvis DeBerry in the Times-Picayune, but the Louisiana Supreme Court decided to make itself look bad by fighting her seating anyway.

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State of Louisiana

Bernette Johnson has been appointed to the Louisiana Supreme Court as its first black chief justice, but Times-Picayune writer Jarvis DeBerry says the push-back she received should have been avoided. Instead her opponent, state Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Victory, used old, racist ideas to try to block her path. 

Louisiana had rigged the system, had drawn up districts that made it mathematically unlikely that in this racially polarized state a black candidate would ever be elected to the Supreme Court. A lawsuit forced the state to redraw those lines, but before those new districts were set, a compromise was reached to give plaintiffs more immediate satisfaction. None of the seven justices already there would be kicked off the court. An eighth seat would be added. That person would nominally be an appellate court judge but be appointed to the Supreme Court and operate in every way as a Supreme Court justice.

In every way except seniority. At least that's what Jeffrey Victory, who got to the court after Johnson, was trying to argue. It was a wrongheaded argument through and through, but most of all because Victory was trying to make the state's past history of racial discrimination work to his advantage.

Johnson sued her colleagues and said they had no right to even be considering the question of seniority. Federal courts agreed with her. Tuesday, her fellow justices threw in the towel and unanimously declared what everybody else already knew: that Johnson had been there the longest and was therefore set to be the next chief justice. Time on the court as an appointed justice is just as valid as time on the court as an elected justice, they decided.

Read Jarvis DeBerry's entire piece at the Times-Picayune.

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