Next Justice to Help Decide Legislative Battles

Dec 7, 2012

Baton Rouge area voters will pick the next state Supreme Court justice in a runoff election Saturday. 

John Pierre, professor and vice chancellor at the Southern University Law Center, says the new justice will likely help decide the biggest battles of the past legislative session. The fight over private school vouchers is just one of them. 

Judge John Guidry (right) and Judge Jeff Hughes face off in a runoff election Dec. 8, 2012.
Credit Composite photo


JEFFRIES: So, while that has certainly taken the spotlight for the moment, there are a couple of other big issues that this next supreme court may also look at. Issues regarding retirement for state employees is one. 

PIERRE: Yes. We have a situation now where the legislature  passed legislation this past session that essentially applies to new employees that will be hired on or after July 1, 2013. They will not get the benefit of the current retirement system, there's a 401K-type "cash-balance"retirement system (instead). 

There already has been a lawsuit filed that challenges the constitutionality of the statute. 

You would expect that there will be a hearing, a trial on that pretty soon, and a ruling. And again, if that statute is declared unconstitutional for some reason then there's going to be this speed up to the Supreme Court. 

JEFFRIES: And the other big fight of the past legislative session was over the state budget and the use of one-time funds in the budget that Gov. Bobby Jindal proposed and that was ultimately passed by the legislature. But a faction of the Republican members of the state House disagreed with that methodology for funding. 

PIERRE: The members requested the Attorney General to issue an opinion and the Attorney General has declined that request to issue an opinion for the very purpose of saying, "I may have to defend what happened from a constitutional perspective, so I certainly cannot speak on it prior to there being actual litigation." 

The question is whether or not those 19 members have the political courage to file the lawsuit. 

JEFFRIES: There are two judges who are in the runoff to be on the bench when all of those issues are to be considered: Judge Jeff Hughes, who is a Republican, and Judge John Guidry, who is the Democrat. 

And you have supported John Guidry, donating to John Guidry's campaign. 

So let me ask you this first, what has motivated you to support John Guidry in this race? 

PIERRE: He is probably more of a contemporary of mine. In fact, people mistake me for him a lot of times. You know, he's a Southern alumn and I want to support Southern alumns. 

JEFFRIES: So for you it's personal?

PIERRE: Absolutely. 

JEFFRIES: Judge Hughes, however, has been campaigning on a pro-gun, anti-abortion, traditionally conservative platform. Judge Guidry has been taking a more traditional for a judicial candidate tact in just saying simply he will be fair and transparent. Do those campaign promises mean anything at the bench once these judges get there? 

PIERRE: Typically they don't. 

Judge Hughes, he is allowed to -- because it is an elected position -- to say what he thinks; he has a first amendment right to say what he thinks. And now people have to decide whether that fits with what they want or what they don't want. But it doesn't mean he's going to rule a particular way. 

JEFFRIES: Yeah. Interestingly last week, Judge Tim Kelley, who is a Republican, he ruled against Gov. Bobby Jindal in that private school voucher program case even though the lawyer that Bobby Jindal had picked to represent the state in its defense, Jimmy Faircloth, had donated $1,000 to his campaign for Supreme Court. 

PIERRE: Yes. Again, the cautionary tale here is you cannot predict. And I have found that Louisiana judges take their jobs seriously and no matter what they will follow the law. 

JEFFRIES: If you didn't happen to know Judge Guidry personally, what would you be looking for in making a decision about who to vote for in this runoff? 

PIERRE: Temperament. The ability to look at all sides of issues. The idea that the decisions mean something to people's lives. But a judge who understands that sometimes you get results that are not the kind of result you'd like to have, but it's what the law is, and that that's not the judge's job to define how to make the law. He simply interprets what the law is and the rest of it left to the political process. 

JEFFRIES: How do you think Judge Hughes and Judge Guidry stack up in terms of that temperament and balanced approach that you're talking about? 

PIERRE: I think both of them have the temperament and the balance. I mean, I think you have two very qualified candidates. Different kind of candidates though. 

Judge Hughes certainly has trial experience, but this is an appellate court situation, and Judge Guidry has the appellate court experience, plus the practice in front of trial and appellate courts -- and both of them have that. 

I think both of them are imminently qualified to be justices of the Supreme Court. 

JEFFRIES: John Pierre, professor and vice chancellor at Southern University Law Center, thanks for joining me. 

GUIDRY: Thank you for having me.