Louisiana governor appeals ruling on black supreme court justice

NEW ORLEANS Sat Sep 8, 2012 1:15pm EDT

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal talks to the press after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and other members of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington February 27, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal talks to the press after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and other members of the National Governors Association at the White House in Washington February 27, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Larry Downing

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NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Lawyers for Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal have challenged a U.S. federal judge's ruling that would allow a black state supreme court justice to become the court's next chief justice.

Jindal, who is Indian-American, on Friday asked an appeals court to review a lower-court decision to allow black justice Bernette Johnson's to succeed a white chief justice retiring next year.

The dispute over whether Johnson should be the first black justice to head the Louisiana court has highlighted long-standing racial tensions in the state.

The state constitution stipulates that the longest-serving associate justice takes the top post. Johnson began serving on the state Supreme Court in 1994 while white justice Jeffrey Victory did not join the court until 1995.

But Johnson was initially appointed to the Supreme Court, not elected, as part of a state settlement with the federal government over racial discrimination that expanded the court to seven justices from six.

The other members of the current court, who are all white, contend that Johnson does not have the seniority to be the next chief justice. Johnson's colleagues on the court say that her first six years as an appointed justice should not count toward her seniority.

Current chief justice Catherine Kimball attempted to resolve the dispute by asking members of the court to file briefs arguing the issue and having outside judges rule on succession.

But Johnson took her case to federal court, asking that the 20-year-old voting rights case be reopened and that her full tenure on the Supreme Court be reaffirmed.

In a statement released by one of his lawyers, Jindal said the matter should be settled by the Louisiana Supreme Court and the federal government should not be involved.

"The issue on appeal is not who should serve as the next Chief Justice, but whether the Louisiana Supreme Court should be prohibited by a federal court from interpreting the state's constitution," he said in the statement.

A lawyer for Johnson called Jindal's position a throwback to the days when Southern states used the principle of "states rights" as a smokescreen for racism.

"That's what the proponents of slavery said during the Civil War. It's an age-old excuse," said attorney James Williams.

(Editing by Greg McCune and Will Dunham)

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Comments (3)
jabusse wrote:
my guess is that color has little to do with this. Clearly a federal district court judge should not interfere until the state court has acted. I would be embarrassed to have a chife justice who was an affirmative action appointee. She probably is not really qualified and her only talent is to hold down a chair.

Sep 08, 2012 8:36pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
bbsnews wrote:
Jabusse, my guess is that Jindal is a standard Southern racist. And the fact that you use the standard dog whistle of “affirmative action” indicates that you are no less of a racist. In fact, the rest of your comment confirms my assertion. Johnson should be seated, and you and Jindal will just have to live with it…

Sep 08, 2012 9:58pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
nikacat wrote:
Whoever first plays the race card is usually the racist. From this, it is apparent that jabusse is solid and bbsnews is in the wilderness.

Sep 09, 2012 1:48am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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