Changing the Louisiana Judiciary Forever

SULC continues commemoration of 30th anniversary of Clark and Chisom cases

Across Louisiana’s judicial system sit 82 elected Black judges—the highest number per capita for any state in the United States—thanks to a series of legal battles that opened the way for more diverse judges to be elected statewide.


Ron Chisom

In 1986, plaintiffs Janice Clark and Ron Chisom began a series of legal disputes against the state of Louisiana petitioning for equal representation in the judicial system. They argued that the state’s judicial electoral process was systemically designed to keep people of color from ever being elected. After filing class action suits known as Clark v. Roemer and Chisom v. Edwards  under the federal Voting Rights Act and taking the cases all the way to the United States Supreme Court, Baton Rouge civil rights attorneys secured Black-majority sub-districts throughout the Louisiana judicial system.

In February, the Southern University Law Center celebrated the 30th Anniversary of these landmark cases with a host of attorneys and judges who actively participating in changing the judicial makeup of the state. The center will end its commemoration when it hosts members of the judiciary at 10:30 a.m. Friday, October 21, in the Edward L. Patterson Moot Courtroom.

This event brings together plaintiff lawyers, former top officials involved in the settlement, and those who benefitted from the litigation. Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson will be a featured presenter and Law Center administrators will unveil framed-copies of the U.S. Constitution and portraits of key participants in the cases.

“These are the landmark cases that changed the Louisiana judiciary forever,” said former Louisiana Attorney General Richard Ieyoub, who was instrumental in resolving both cases, along with then-governor Edwin Edwards.

What happened in the settlement of these legal cases 30 years ago was solely significant in increasing the number of Black judges in the state, according to Law Center Chancellor John K. Pierre.


Ernest Johnson


Arthur Thomas

Baton Rouge attorney Ernest Johnson, who led the Clark v. Roemer case,  said it was no accident that such a lawsuit would be part of the strategy developed by civil rights lawyers, many of whom were graduates of the Southern University Law Center. “We were taught ‘seriousness of purpose’ and to look at the full picture and see how you can right the wrongs,” Johnson said.

Attorneys Arthur Thomas and Pamela Taylor were co-counsel in the Clark suit. Today, Clark is a judge in Louisiana’s 19th Judicial District Court and Taylor, now Pamela Taylor Johnson, is a judge in the East Baton Rouge Parish Juvenile Court.

Chisom is a senior fellow of Ashoka’s Global Academy, a program for men and women seeking solutions for the world’s most urgent social problems. He led the legal suit that achieved equal representation on the Louisiana Supreme Court for the predominately Black city of New Orleans. He later helped to establish The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond. The 30th year commemoration activities are being hosted by the Southern University Law Center, Carter G. Woodson Historical Society, SGA Former Presidents’ Council, SULC Student Bar Association, SULC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, SULC Diversity Committee, and the 2016 Network Coalition.

In commemoration events like this one, “we take a look at from whence we’ve come to see where we are going. Here we get the impetus to go on into the future to effect greater change,” Ernest Johnson said.



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