Apparently some judges’ tenures are more equal than others.
An interesting lawsuit was filed last week in Louisiana. The chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court is stepping down, and the judge with the most seniority is supposed to be next in line to hold the post.
Logic suggests that the position should fall to Justice Bernette Johnson, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 1994, and is the longest serving judge on the Court.
But a different judge claims he is the longest serving judge, since he was elected in 1995. The math doesn’t work out, but Justice Jeffrey Victory claims that Johnson’s extra year doesn’t count because Johnson won a special, court-ordered election, and so there.
If it makes no sense to you how one election means less than another election, let me add that Johnson is black and Victory is not. That’s the rug that ties this room together….
Johnson was elected to the bench after a federal court found that Louisiana’s voting districts diluted the power of African-Americans living in New Orleans. From the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights:
In 1992, the federal court in Chisom signed a Consent Judgment to settle a case brought under the Voting Rights Act. The case alleged that Louisiana’s decision to submerge Orleans Parish into a two-member judicial district (the only district with more than one member) diluted the voting strength of African American voters in violation of the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act. At the time, no African American had ever been elected to the Louisiana Supreme Court and Justice Johnson is the only African American currently on the Supreme Court.
In order to allow two sitting white justices to complete their existing term, the Consent Judgment provided for an eighth justice (the “Chisom judge”) who would be elected from Orleans Parish. The Consent Judgment provided that the Chisom judge would have the same rights, emoluments, powers and duties as the other justices…
Louisiana fixed its voting rights problems and went back to seven justices in 2000, at which point Johnson was re-elected to the bench.
Supporters of Victory say that Johnson didn’t start accruing tenure on the court until 2000.
The outgoing chief justice wants to hear arguments about the issue. From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:
Last month, [Chief Justice Catherine Kimball] set a July 31 deadline for the justices to weigh in with briefs on which colleague is the “oldest in point of service” under the terms of the state Constitution.
Three appellate judges were picked to help decide the matter because Johnson, Victory and Justice Jeannette Knoll have been recused. Knoll joined the court in 1997, which could make her the second-most senior justice ahead of Johnson if Victory’s argument prevails.
I haven’t actually found an argument for why Johnson’s seniority shouldn’t count. She was elected for a seat on the Supreme Court in 1994. And she’s served on the Supreme Court since 1994. Unless the consent decree said, “This eighth justice is for the limited purpose of procuring maple syrup for the other justices at breakfast,” Victory’s argument seems, at best, stupid. At worst, it looks like Victory is trying to undo the legitimacy of the Chisom decision 20 years later.
If Johnson has her way, I won’t ever see Victory’s crazy theory of counting. The lawsuit at issue is Johnson’s trying to get her colleagues to end debate on whether or not 1994 happened before 1995, and install her as the chief justice.
If Johnson wins, she’ll become the first African-American chief justice in the history of Louisiana. If she loses, I won’t be able to wait until we can disregard other subsequent effects from the elections of 1994.
African American Justice Asks Federal Court to Vindicate Her Right to Be Next Chief Justice in Louisiana [Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights]
Lawsuit filed over naming chief justice on state Supreme Court [New Orleans Times-Picayune]