Bernette Johnson

Her honor Bernette J. Johnson was sworn in as Louisiana's first African American chief justice Friday morning. Johnson was only able to take her seat after two civil rights lawsuits.

A federal judge is set to hold a hearing in the dispute over who will to be the next chief justice of Louisiana's Supreme Court.

Louisiana's constitution says the longest-serving of the seven justices must get the top spot.

Bernette Johnson has served on the court since 1994 but supporters of fellow justice Jeffrey Victory say Johnson's first years shouldn't count. She was elected from an appeals court district and assigned to the higher court under a civil rights lawsuit settlement.

Victory has served since 1995.

A power struggle on the Louisiana Supreme Court is headed to federal court this week. Lawyers are seeking to reopen an old voting rights case that gave the Deep South state its first black Supreme Court justice. What's at stake in the racially charged fight is whether Louisiana will now have its first African-American chief justice.

Fifteen New Orleans-area elected officials have told Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Katherine Kimball that she should take steps to ensure that Justice Bernette Johnson succeeds her as the court's chief.

Kimball retires next year. Louisiana's Constitution says the longest serving justice must succeed her. Johnson and Justice Jeffrey Victory each stake claims to being the longest serving.

A federal judge has scheduled a status conference to discuss a Louisiana Supreme Court justice's bid to block her colleagues from debating and voting on whether she is entitled to become the court's next chief justice.

U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan scheduled Thursday afternoon's conference at the request of attorneys for Justice Bernette Johnson. The meeting is closed to the public.

Several black Louisiana elected officials are asking the Justice Department's civil rights division to intervene in a dispute over whether state Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson is legally entitled to become the court's next chief justice.

A letter sent Monday to the head of the division's voting section accuses Johnson's colleagues of trying to dilute the rights of black voters by unilaterally creating a new process for deciding which justice has the most seniority.