Black Justice Sworn in as Supreme Court Chief

Feb 1, 2013

Her honor Bernette J. Johnson was sworn in as Louisiana's first African American chief justice Friday morning. Johnson was only able to take her seat after two civil rights lawsuits.

Louisiana Chief Justice Bernette J. Johnson
Credit Louisiana Supreme Court

Johnson became a justice in 1994 after a lawsuit mandated the appointment of an African American to the bench to counter the state’s racial gerrymandering. Johnson spurred another civil rights case this summer.

Though she had served the longest, and was thus next-in-line to take the chief justice seat, her seniority was challenged by a white male justice who was elected in ‘95. He suggested that because she was appointed -- not elected until 2000 – her first six years should not count.

In August, Johnson sued the state to assert her seniority. A federal court ruled in her favor.