Justice Bernette Johnson was elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1994 on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that forced the state court to redraw a district to allow black justices to be elected, reported the USA Today. Her elevation to chief justice is being challenged and some suggest it's because of her race.
Under an agreement stemming from that ruling, Johnson was elected to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, so as not to oust the sitting justice she would ultimately replace, but she took part in state Supreme Court duties, from penning opinions to earning an equal salary as other associate justices. She was re-elected directly to the court in 2000.
When current Chief Justice Catherine Kimball announced her retirement this summer, Johnson assumed she would be the next chief, having served the longest on the court. The state constitution recognizes the judge "oldest in point of service" as the next chief justice.
But Justices Jeffrey Victory and Jeannette Knoll, who joined the court in 1995 and 1997, respectively, objected, claiming they have been on the court longer, reported USA Today.
The objection to Johnson has racial overtones. The two judges argue that at its core the debate is about whether Johnson's years from 1994 to 2000 should count as tenure on the high court. The current chief justice called for a panel of state appellate and Supreme Court justices to make a decision on the case. Johnson sued blocking that procedure.
"This is one of the most blatant and obvious racially motivated fights we've seen since David Duke made the runoff for governor," said state Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Johnson supporter, referencing the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard who narrowly lost a bid for Louisiana governor in 1991.
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