First African American La. State Supreme Court Chief Justice takes oath of office

By Tia Benton | Feb 28, 2013

NEW ORLEANS – The investiture ceremony for the first African American Chief Justice of the Louisiana State Supreme Court took place today at noon on the steps of the Louisiana Supreme Court in the French Quarter.

Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson was surrounded by her family, friends and colleagues as she took the oath of office.

The ceremony began with the statement “welcome to history” and the crowd roared with joyous shouts and applause following the statement. Followed by the opening statement was the invocation, presentation of colors and recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance led by Chief Justice Johnson’s grandchildren, Nia and Noah Johnson.

Among those who spoke were the wife of Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Cheryl Landrieu–a judge on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals; John H. Musser IV, president of the Louisiana State Bar Association; New Orleans Bar Association past-president and board member Patrick Vance and U.S. District Judge Ivan Lamelle.

Musser noted that Johnson did not make it to this momentous occasion just because she was African American.

“You’re God’s Child and you have merit. You’re good at what you do,” he said directly to Johnson.

On behalf of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, her chief of staff Donald Cravins, Jr. shared the senator’s sentiment on Johnson’s investiture.

“This is the culmination of what Rosa Parks was trying to achieve,” Cravins said.

The ceremony was a family affair for Johnson. Her children David and Rachel Johnson presented her with her judge’s robe and two of her brothers, Frank and Sidney Joshua, presented her with her gavel. Johnson’s 90-year-old mother was also in attendance, but due to the chilly weather witnessed the bulk of the investiture from inside the State Supreme Court.

Johnson was sworn in by the Chief Judge of the Federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Chief Judge Carl Stewart.

Jones Sheridan issued the oath. As Johnson was sworn in she made it a point to have all her grandchildren and children stand aligned to the left and right of her.

In her final address to the crowd, Johnson thanked everyone in attendance and gave thanks to God.

“In a state like Louisiana, when you’re elected to public office, you either have a lot of money or have a lot of people with you,” Johnson said. “I’ve always had a lot of people.”

The Southern University band played the Star Spangled Banner during the ceremony and also closed it out with festive tunes native to New Orleans while onlookers and attendees took pictures and danced to the music.

When asked of his opinion on what had just taken place, attendee Andre Ferguson had two words “beautiful and monumental.”

Another onlooker, Harry Cantrell, said the ceremony was historical and moving.

“It was overdue and the opportunity to serve as Chief Justice was granted to a well-deserving person,” he said.

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