Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, LSU Law ’69, will return to her alma mater to deliver the Commencement address at the LSU Law Center’s 2013 commencement ceremonies, Chancellor Jack M. Weiss has announced. The commencement ceremonies will be held on Friday, May 31, 2013, at 9:30 a.m. in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on the LSU campus.
“We are delighted to welcome our new Chief Justice back to LSU Law as our 2013 commencement speaker,” said Chancellor Weiss. “Her dedication to the law, advocacy of social justice, and unique perspective as one of the first African American females to attend the Law Center will make for an inspiring address.” A 1969 graduate of the LSU Paul M. Hebert Law Center, Chief Justice Johnson was one of the first African American women to attend the law school. She was inducted into the LSU Law Center’s Hall of Fame in 1996, and in 2004, she delivered the John H. Tucker, Jr., Lecture in Civil Law at the Law Center. Today, her portrait hangs in the Robinson Courtroom at the Law Center.
Chief Justice Johnson is the first African American Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Her formal investiture ceremony was held February 28, 2013. She was first elected to serve on the Louisiana Supreme Court in 1994 and was re-elected, without opposition, in 2000 and 2010. She serves on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s Judicial Council and has served on the Court’s Legal Services Task Force, as well as the National Campaign on Best Practices in the area of Racial and Ethnic Fairness in the Courts. Justice Johnson has worked closely with the Court’s Mandatory Continuing Legal Education Committee and the Committee on Bar Admissions. She has served as the Louisiana Supreme Court’s appointee to the Louisiana Law Institute, housed at LSU Law.
For much of her life, Chief Justice Johnson has worked as an advocate for social justice, civil rights, and community organizing. During the 1960’s, she worked as a community organizer with the NAACP, Legal Defense & Educational Fund. 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 Department to implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act. She also served as a Federal Observer during elections in Greenwood, Mississippi.
Following law school, Chief Justice Johnson became the Managing Attorney with the New Orleans Legal Assistance Corporation, where she provided legal services to over 3,000 clients in socio-economically deprived neighborhoods. In 1981, Chief Justice Johnson joined the City Attorney’s staff, and later became a Deputy City Attorney for the City of New Orleans.
Chief Justice Johnson’s judicial career began in 1984 as the first woman elected to serve on the Civil District Court of New Orleans. She was re-elected, without opposition, in 1990 and was elected Chief Judge by her colleagues in 1994.
Chief Justice Johnson is the recipient of numerous awards, including 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 has twice been presented with the Louis A. Martinet Legal Society’s President’s Award, in 1997 and 2008.
In addition to her judicial responsibilities, Chief Justice Johnson has been actively involved in serving the community. She has served as an Executive Committee Member of the National Alumnae Association of Spelman College (1991-1994); Chair of the New Orleans Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1989-1994); Member of the Martin Luther King National Holiday Planning Committee; Member of the Board of Directors of the Young Women Christian Association; and Life Member of the NAACP.
Chief Justice Johnson is the parent of two adult children: a son, David, an accountant who lives in Atlanta with his family, and a daughter Rachael, who is a licensed attorney in Florida and Louisiana.