Our View: Justice pick offers court’s example

The state of Louisiana took a judicial step forward last week when Justice Bernette Johnson was name to succeed Catherine “Kitty” Kimball as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court.

Johnson will become the first black chief justice Louisiana has ever had on Jan. 1, 2013, when Kimball retires.

The lead bench capacity was not secured without debate. A unanimous ruling by the high court offered acceptance, but not before objections were made by the good-old-boy network, including protests from Justice Jeffery Victory – a white male – who himself wanted the top position.

Chief Justice-select Johnson has the credentials and experience. She earned her Juris Doctorate from LSU in 1969 then began her career as a legal services attorney. She was elected and re-elected to be a Civil District Court of New Orleans judge between 1984 and 1994.

Johnson was appointed to the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1994, in part, as settlement on a civil rights lawsuit related to the election of minority judges. She was elected her current seat in 2000.

While on the high court, Johnson has been influential, particularly in discrimination cases. She wrote the majority opinion in the State vs. Coleman 2007. In that case, a Caddo Parish District Court prosecutor was found to have consciously avoided selecting black jurors for the murder trial of a black man.

Johnson’s work has yielded professional recognition that includes the Louisiana Bar Association Distinguished Jurist Award in 2009, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Advocate Award in 2010 and the 2012 Terrebonne Parish NAACP President’s Award.

We believe Johnson is the right person at the right time to become the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Chief Justice. Along with her skills, symbolism demonstrates to the rest of our nation that Louisiana has moved far beyond a 1912 political attitude as we approach the completion of 2012.

Johnson’s achievement is an example of changed thinking that should open the bench for a minority judgeship in the 32nd Judicial Court of Terrebonne Parish.

“This should shine a light on our situation,” Terrebonne Parish NAACP Branch President Jerome Boykin said. “If the Louisiana Supreme Court can accept a minority district, truly the other courts can accept a minority district.”

Terrebonne Parish has already demonstrated through its difficulty of forming federally-required areas of minority representation that its population is racially mixed.

We believe the 32nd Judicial Court has a responsibility to have that diversity represented on its bench.

It is not a matter of equality or fairness. It is an issue of supreme justice.