Jindal to Appeal Federal Ruling in Louisiana Supreme Court Battle

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Written By admin at Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

Louisiana Supreme Court
Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson

The unusual contest to determine who should be the next chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court isn’t over just yet.

Lawyers for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on Friday filed notice that they planned to appeal U.S. District Court Judge Susie Morgan’s ruling last week that settled the issue in favor Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson.

The governor’s lawyers have argued that the federal courts lack jurisdiction to decide the case and that they should defer to the state.

In her Sept. 1 ruling, Judge Morgan ruled that Justice Johnson’s first six years on the court, in which she served in a special seat, should be credited toward her term of service, making her the most-tenured member of the court and the rightful successor to the outgoing chief justice.

Louisiana’s top court has been locked in a legal battle for the past few months over who should lead the court when sitting Chief Justice Catherine “Kitty” Kimball retires in January. The Law Blog reported in July that  if Justice Johnson prevails, she will be the court’s fist black chief justice.

Justice Jeffrey Victory and others questioned whether Justice Johnson’s first six years on the court should count toward her term of service. Under state law, the chief justice of the court is determined by seniority.

James Williams, an attorney for Ms. Johnson, called the attempts to “impede Justice Johnson’s ascension to the Chief Justice position… a racially divisive maneuver which threatened Louisiana’s national reputation as a fair-minded state with the most diverse judiciary in America. ”

He added,  “We had hoped that Judge Morgan’s ruling meant we would come together in the aftermath of this ugly battle, heal, and move forward as a unified judiciary and citizenry.”

Kevin R. Tully, a lawyer for Gov. Jindal, emailed us this statement:

 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. The state’s highest court is constitutionally empowered to interpret the state constitution, specifically the issue of which judge is “oldest in point of service on the supreme court” as set forth in Article V, Section 6 of the Louisiana Constitution. The ruling creates confusion regarding whether the federal court believes the consent judgment prohibits the Louisiana Supreme Court from carrying out its constitutional duties.  To resolve the confusion, the Governor believes the judgment should be reviewed by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Governor takes no position on who should be Chief Justice.

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