John Baptiste Fournet (July 27, 1895 - June 3, 1984) was an associate justice (1935-1949) and Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court (1949-1970). He was an original backer of Governor and United States Senator Huey Long.
Early years, family, military, education
In 1920, he received an LL. B degree from Louisiana State University Law School.
Election to the Supreme Court
Fournet did not complete his term as lieutenant governor because he won a special election to the New Orleans-based state Supreme Court in the fall of 1934. Long, using sound trucks, campaigned personally for Fournet. He became an associate justice on January 2, 1935, and chief justice in 1949. He retired by constitutional mandate in 1970 at the age of seventy-five. His was the longest tenure of any Louisiana Supreme Court justice. He was also a former member of the prestigious LSU Board of Supervisors.
Administration of Justice
On the court, Fournet abandoned partisanship and dedicated himself to improving the administration of justice. He spearheaded the reorganization of the appellate court system. When he became chief justice, the dockets of most courts in Louisiana had a heavy backlog. He created the Louisiana Judicial Council and established the position of judicial administrator to implement the work of the council. When court reorganization did not occur through a state constitutional convention, Fournet restructured the appellate court system. He used constitutional amendments that moved much of the Louisiana Supreme Court's jurisdiction to a larger system of intermediary courts of appeal. This allowed the Supreme Court to concentrate on cases of greater importance. The additional appellate judgeships also lessened the court congestion.
During his court tenure, Fournet particpated in some 17,500 cases and worte 1,239 opinions. Of these, 1,043 were majority opinions. Of the 525 rehearings sought from his opinions, only 19 obtained a rehearing. Of those, just seven were reversed. Of his majority opinions, only forty-one were appealed to the United States Supreme Court; nine were granted, and four were reversed.
Major Fournet Cases
Major Fournet cases included the following:
Kennedy v. Item Company (1948) -- freedom of press does not include the right to maliciously defame a person's reputation
State v. Bentley (1951) -- safeguarded Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination
State v. Pete (1944) -- upheld constitutionality of Louisiana Criminal Code
State v. Bessar (1948) -- defined scope and applicability of felony-murder doctrine
State v. Hightower (1960) -- upheld constitutionality of the drunk driving provision of the criminal code
State v. Smith (1968) -- reaffirmed the validity of the definition of public bribery
Fournet's decisions strengthened criminal and civil procedure in Louisiana. He introduced a simplifed form of indictment in criminal matters and reduced technicalities in matters of civil procedure. In Voisin v. Luke (1966) he wrote that the procedureal rules of the civil code were intended to promote the administration of justice, not to allow "entrapment . . . of a litiigant" so as to discourage the accused from pursuing a trial on the merits.
In 1941, Justice Fournet wrote a scholarly decision in Succession of Lissa in which he claimed that the sources of Louisiana law date to the Twelve Tables of the Romans, the Institutes of Gaius, the Justinian Code, and the Napoleonic Code.
"John B. Fournet," Who's Who in America, 1938
Richard D. White, Jr., Kingfish, New York: Random House, 2006, pp. 40, 67-670, 84, 100, 105, 136, 139, 141, 200, 211, 252, 263, 265, 267-268, 276, 288
"John Baptiste Fournet" American National Biography, edited by John A. Garraty and Marc C. Carnes, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, pp. 317-318
"John B. Fournet," Biographies of Louisiana Judges (1977), pp. 147-150
Louisiana Reports 256 (1971): 5-27 (Tributes to Judge Fournet from colleagues)
T. Harry Williams, Huey Long: A Biography
Fournet obituary, New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 4, 1984