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5th Circuit names first Black chief judge

8th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By J. Kojo Livingston
Contributing Writer

Last week Judge Carl Stewart became the first African American to serve as chief judge of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He earned the position through a process of ascension based on age and tenure on the court. Because the Fifth District is a federal court, Louisiana officials were unable to alter or challenge the process for his assuming this post as they were with State Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson.

Judge Stewart became the second African American to serve on the appellate court following his appointment by President Clinton in 1994. Stewart received his undergraduate degree from Dillard University in 1971 and graduated from Loyola University’s law school in New Orleans in 1974.

The Louisiana Weekly caught up with Judge Stewart at Shreveport’s annual Soul Bowl breakfast, a long-standing traditional football game between two historic Black high schools, Booker T. Washington and Green Oaks. Stewart offered the keynote address. He encouraged the students from Booker T. Washington and Green Oaks high schools to be proud of their schools their, communities and their heritage. Stewart is a BTW graduate.

“It’s an honor to become chief judge of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Stewart said, “There are seventeen active judges on my court, five of them seniors. I’ll be dealing with a lot of administrative matters that cover three states, Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. I’m grateful for the opportunity for all my teachers, friends and family. God puts you in these places and gives you what you need to do a good job. I look forward to helping make other opportunities for other people who can, if not do this, do other great things, if they are just given a chance.”

Stewart explained the scope of his new job. “The federal courts are different from the state courts because we deal with complex litigation that covers all of the federal courts in three states, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. All three of those states are death penalty states, so we get death penalty appeals from all of three states, as well as a whole range of civil litigation. We don’t do divorces and car accidents and that sort of thing, those are state court matters. But when you see big ticket issues of the day, like the president’s Health Care Act. All of the bigger cases you see in the Supreme Court, those have worked their way to the federal court first. We handle business matters, complex bankruptcies, and a wide range of issues that affect the daily life of many people.”

Asked about his hopes for the young people who listened to him at the breakfast, the judge says, “I always enjoy this. I like to be in the midst of young people; they energize you and inspire you. I try to give them some tips. It is very important that young people are proud of their heritage, whether you have one parent, two parents, no parent, whatever. There are nurturing people in the community and they can set their own horizons. I just want to see these young people prosper.”

Stewart started his new job as chief justice on Monday of last week.

This article was originally published in the October 8, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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