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La.’s first Black chief justice to receive major award

7th October 2013   ·   0 Comments

AG Eric Holder to attend NAWJ conference in N.O.

Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, the state’s first Black Chief Justice, will be awarded the prestigious Joan Dempsey Klein Award by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) in a ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, Thursday, October 10. The Joan Dempsey Klein NAWJ Honoree of the Year Award is presented to a judge who brings distinction to her office and to NAWJ as exemplified by its founding mother, Justice Joan Dempsey Klein of California’s Second District Court of Appeal.

“The award recognizes Chief Justice Johnson’s assistance to women judges in becoming more proficient in their profession, help in solving the legal, social and ethical problems associated with the judiciary, and working to increase the number of women serving as judges,” NAWJ President Joan Churchill said last week. “Chief Justice Johnson overcame many obstacles in her judicial career while making impressive contributions to women in the legal profession.”



The NAWJ 35th Annual Conference will take place in New Orleans October 9-13 with more than 300 NAWJ members expected to attend. Chief Justice Johnson will be presented the award at the Keynote Luncheon which will also feature U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr. as the keynote speaker.

Johnson, a New Orleans native and former valedictorian of Walter L. Cohen Senior High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College and a juries doctorate from Louisiana State University. She was also awarded an Honorary Doctorate n Law from Spelman College in 2001.

For much of her life, Chief Justice Johnson has worked as an advocate for social justice, civil rights and community organizing. During the 1960s, she worked as a community organizer with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. She worked with community groups in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Louisiana, disseminating information about recent school desegregation decisions, and encouraging parents to take advantage of newly desegregated schools. She used these skills later to help organize household workers so they would receive Social Security benefits and a minimum wage.

While in law school, Chief Justice Johnson worked at the U.S. Department of Justice (Civil Rights Division) in Washington, D.C., examining cases filed by the DOJ to implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act. These cases primarily concerned discrimination in public accommodations. She also served as a Federal Observer during elections in Greenwood, Mississippi.

Chief Justice Johnson is the recipient of numerous awards, including: the 2013 Martin Luther King Unsung Hero Award presented by LSU; the 2012 Exceptional Contributor Award presented by the National Black Prosecutors Association; the 2012 President’s Award presented by the National Urban League; the 2012 President’s Award presented by the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies; the 2012 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Award; the 2012 Exceptional Leadership Award presented by the Louisiana Bar Association Committee on Diversity; the 2011 Pioneer Award presented by the Louisiana Association of Black Women Attorneys; the 2010 Louisiana Justice Hall of Fame Award; the 2010 Spirit of Excellence Award presented by the American Bar Association; the 2009 Thurgood Marshall College Fund Community Leadership Award; the 2009 Distinguished Jurist Award presented by the Louisiana Bar Foundation, and the Louisiana Bar Association President’s Award for Exceptional Service as co-chair of the Task Force on Diversity in the Profession. She was presented with the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society President’s Award in 1997 and 2008. In 2005, she was received the National Nobel Woman Award presented by the Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women, and the Judicial Public Service Award presented by the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order Nobles Mystic Shrine of North and South America. Her other awards include: the 2000 Medal of Honor presented by the Mayor of the City of New Orleans; the 2000 Women of Wonder Award presented by the National Council of Negro Wo­men; the first Ernest N. Morial Award presented by the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corpo­ration; the A.P. Tureaud Citizen­ship Award presented by the Louisiana State Conference of the NAACP; the 1999 Martin Luther King, Jr. Torch Bearer Award; the 1998 Outstanding Community Service Award presented by the Imperial Court Daughters of Isis; the 1998 American Bar Association’s Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award; the 1998 Outstanding Service Award presented by the International Law Section of the National Bar Association; and the 1992 Role Model Award presented by the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of Greater New Orleans.

NAWJ is the nation’s leading voice of women jurists dedicated to preserving judicial independence, ensuring equal justice and access to the courts for women and minorities, providing education on cutting-edge issues, and increasing the numbers and advancement of women judges at all levels.

As the 2013 honoree, Chief Justice Johnson joins a distinguished list of Joan Dempsey Klein Award recipients that includes U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor (1982), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2003) and Sonia Sotomayor (2009).

This article originally published in the October 7, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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