A racial controversy is brewing in Louisiana, where the Republican governor is challenging a federal judge’s decision to allow an African-American Supreme Court justice to become the state’s first Black chief justice.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration requested that an appeals court review a lower court decision that would enable Bernette Johnson, an African-American justice, to succeed the current chief justice, who is white and retiring next year.
Under Louisiana’s constitution, the longest-serving associate justice on the Supreme Court assumes the chief justice position once it is vacated. Johnson began serving on the state Supreme Court in 1994 while Jeffrey Victory, a white justice who Jindal is supporting for the position, did not join the court until 1995.
"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," Jindal said, in a statement released by his lawyers.
Jindal, who is the state’s first Indian-American governor, has pointed out that Johnson was initially appointed to the Supreme Court and not elected. That appointment was part of a state settlement with the federal government over racial discrimination that expanded the court from six to seven justices.
The other members of the current court, who are all white, maintain that Johnson does not have the seniority to be the next chief justice. Johnson's colleagues say that her first six years as an appointed justice should not count toward her seniority.
Johnson took her case to the federal court, asking that her years on the court be reaffirmed.
Jindal has maintained that the issue should be settled by the court itself rather than by a federal judge.
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(Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)