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Chisom v. Jindal

In the current phase of this litigation, the Lawyers’ Committee, along with local counsel, represented Justice Bernette Johnson of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  In July 2012, we filed a motion to reopen this case to affirm Justice Johnson’s qualifications to serve as the next Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. 

This case is a continuation of a lawsuit brought under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, initially resolved through a Consent Judgment in 1992, regarding the election of members of the Louisiana Supreme Court.  Prior to the Consent Judgment, Louisiana elected five members of the Court from single-member districts and two members from a sixth district which included Orleans Parish.  At the time, no African American had ever been elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court.  Orleans Parish is majority African American in population, but the two-member district in which it was submerged was majority white.  The Consent Judgment split that district so that all justices would henceforth be elected from single-member districts, and provided that one district shall consist of most of Orleans Parish and a portion of neighboring Jefferson Parish.

In order to allow two sitting justices to complete their terms, the Consent Judgment also provided for a temporary eighth justice (the “Chisom justice”) who would be elected from the new Orleans and Jefferson Parishes District.  It further established that this justice “shall receive the same compensation, benefits, expenses and emoluments of offices as now or hereafter are provided by law for a justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court.”  Most importantly, the new justice’s tenure and seniority were to be recognized in the same manner as that of the other justices.  Justice Johnson was elected to this seat in 1994, and has continuously served on the Court since then. 

Under Louisiana law, the Chief Justice position is filled by the Court’s longest-serving justice.  In May 2012, Chief Justice  Kimball announced her retirement.  Justice Johnson was second in seniority, and accordingly announced that she would prepare to succeed to the position of Chief Justice.  Soon thereafter, however, the Court indicated that it might not credit the portion of her service on the Court when she was the Chisom justice, and that therefore she might not become Chief Justice. 

On September 1, 2012, the federal district court issued an order enforcing the terms of the Consent Judgment, holding that Justice Johnson’s service as the Chisom justice must be credited in determining her tenure on the Supreme Court.  As a result, the Louisiana Supreme Court thereupon issued an order certifying Justice Johnson as the next Chief Justice, the first African American to serve in that position in the history of the State.  Chief Justice Johnson entered into office on February 1, 2013.

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Posted on

June 24, 2015