Opposition to Justice Bernette Johnson, who is on course to become the first African-American chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court in February, has touched off a controversy that recalls the state’s darkest racial clashes, says USA Today. The issue began when two fellow justices, who are white, contested Johnson’s tenure, saying she did not have as much experience on the bench as they did. The justices said their opposition was based solely on experience, not race.
But many Louisianians see it as a black-and-white issue. Johnson is the second black justice ever to serve on the 200-year-old court, giving her a claim to history. She says the top post is constitutionally hers, and she has filed suit in federal court. The NAACP and other civil rights groups have backed her. Last Thursday, a crowd jammed a federal courtroom in New Orleans, as a judge heard arguments. African Americans don’t often get the experience needed to head state supreme courts, said John Page, president of the National Bar Association, a Washington-based advocacy group for black attorneys and judges. The number of black chief justices across the USA is disproportionate to the total number of black attorneys and judges, Page said. That’s why the Johnson case is important, he said. “She’s done everything she’s supposed to,” he said.