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Community seeks to get involved in La. Supreme Court battle

13th August 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Mason Harrison
Contributing Writer

Supporters of embattled Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson gathered at a local church Aug. 6 to raise public awareness of the legal challenges facing the longtime jurist and present strategies to seat Johnson as the court’s next chief justice amid efforts to stop her from taking the position by those who state she fails to meet certain requirements.

Johnson is next in line, due to seniority, to assume the position of chief justice but has been denied the post because her career as a judge began on the state’s fourth judicial circuit, not the Supreme Court, and critics, including the high court’s current chief justice, say that fact disqualifies Johnson from assuming the role of chief justice next year.

But under a federal consent decree signed years ago, and in conjunction with state law, the fourth circuit seat was assigned all of the rights and responsibilities as the other seats on the state’s highest court. This fact, her supporters say, makes her more than qualified to take up the high court job.

The meeting at the Household of Faith Family Worship Church featured a presentation by Ernest Jones, head of the city’s African-American Leadership Project, who began the evening by painting the debate over Johnson’s role on the Supreme Court as having everything to do with race.

“Race is an artificial social construct,” Jones stated. “But it has very real social consequences.” Jones asserted that “white [people] must be privileged above all others all of the time” and that “rewards must be given for buying into the system of racial hierarchy.”

Clarence Roby, who is a part of Johnson’s legal team fighting for her right to lead the state Supreme Court, said he had never taken on a “more compelling or persuasive case that was more on the side of what is right” than the case of Justice Johnson. “We are not asking for what we want,” Roby said, adding, “We are asking for what we are entitled to.”

He added that Johnson’s is winning her legal battle and that his team has “vowed to be in this until we win this.” He encouraged members of the general public to become more aware of the status of Johnson’s case and her argument about why she should take the position of chief justice.

James Williams, another lawyer supporting Johnson, said the case “isn’t simply about Bernette Johnson.” Williams asserted that if “this can be done to someone like Justice Johnson, someone who knows the law, what can be done to a teacher or a janitor or someone who doesn’t know the law?”

Ron Chisom, who was the chief plaintiff in the case that produced the federal consent decree easing the way for more minority state judges in Louisiana, called Johnson “a catalyst” for her ability to “bring the kind of leadership in this room together around this issue,” referring to the bevy of Black political, religious and civic leaders who turned out for the event. “There are only a handful of people who can do that,” he added.

Johnson thanked those in attendance and other groups and individuals who have supported her case since the outset, including activist Tracie Washington and the Louisiana Black Judges Association.

Plans are underway to further publicize and gin up additional public support for Johnson and may include rallies and demonstrations on her behalf. WBOK radio host Gerod Stevens moderated the event and told audience members of the importance, in the coming weeks and months, to not let the power and influence of Johnson’s detractors discourage their efforts.

“I ain’t afraid of the folks at Camp Street,” Stevens said, making a reference to the location of the Supreme Court building.

This article was originally published in the August 13, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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