Louisiana Supreme Court

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Louisiana Supreme Court
Court information
Justices:   7
Chief:  $167,000
Associates:  $159,000
Judicial selection
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Active justices

Jeannette Theriot Knoll  •  Bernette Johnson  •  Greg Guidry  •  John L. Weimer  •  Marcus Clark  •  Scott Crichton  •  Jefferson Hughes  •  

Seal of Louisiana.png

The Louisiana Supreme Court is the highest state court in Louisiana.


The court includes seven justices who are elected for 10-year terms in partisan elections.

The current justices of the court are:
Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll1997-2016Democratic
Chief Justice Bernette Johnson1994-2020Democratic
Justice Greg Guidry2009-2018Republican
Justice John L. Weimer2001-2022Democratic
Justice Marcus Clark2009-2019Republican
Justice Scott Crichton2014-2024
Judge Jefferson Hughes2013-2022Republican

Chief justice

According to the Constitution of Louisiana, "The judge oldest in point of service on the supreme court shall be chief justice. He is the chief administrative officer of the judicial system of the state, subject to rules adopted by the court."


The court, which has it judicial roots in the 18th century French and Spanish governments of Louisiana, has discretionary jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases. Prior to 1980, criminal appellate jurisdiction was within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, however, with a constitutional amendment that became effective on July 1, 1982, this jurisdiction was transferred to the courts of appeal. The only exception to this is in cases that the death penalty has been imposed.[1]

Judicial selection

The court has seven justices that are elected for 10-year terms in partisan elections from seven districts.

Political outlook

See also: Political outlook of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of state supreme court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Louisiana was given a campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Louisiana received a score of 0.35. Based on the justices selected, Louisiana was the 13th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[2]


A qualified candidate for the Supreme Court of Louisiana must have been admitted to practice law in the state for five years, must have lived in the respective district, circuit, or parish for two years, must be younger than 70 years old, and if the candidate held a prior office, they must resign at least 24 hours prior to the date of qualifying for another office.[3] The qualification form for the Louisiana Supreme Court is available here.

Removal of justices

Justices may be removed on the recommendation of the judiciary commission, or may be impeached by the Louisiana house of representatives and removed with a two-thirds vote of the senate.[4]


Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2014 * *
2013 3,017 2,500
2012 2,769 3,181
2011 2,852 2,916
2010 2,875 2,801
2009 2,780 2,801
2008 3,014 2,834
2007 2,645 2,497


  • Louisiana has not yet released 2014 caseload data.

Notable decisions


  • The court unanimously overturned the use in New Orleans of private attorneys to collect overdue property taxes.[12]
  • They gave a legal victory to thousands who sued the city of New Orleans, its public housing authority and its school board for putting their homes and school on a toxic waste dump without warning them.[13]
  • They kept alive a lawsuit by two heirs who say that when Tulane re-organized after Hurricane Katrina, it merged male and female undergraduate colleges in a way that violated the intent of a major long-ago donor.[14]
  • The court upheld the part of Louisiana's online sexual predator law that had been declared unconstitutional by Calcasieu Parish district court judge Wilford Carter. The case concerns Ray Hatton, who is accused of setting up a date for oral sex with someone he believed was a 14-year-old girl, but was actually an adult police officer. Carter had ruled part of the law unconstitutional.[15]


Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Louisiana earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[16]

History of the court

'The Cabildo' (circa 1900), home of the Louisiana Supreme Court from 1868-1910

Under French rule

Before 1712, only the existential rule of explorers existed--but in that year, a French charter created, and bestowed, a Superior Council with executive and judicial powers. Four years later, the court reorganized and became a court-of-last-resort for civil and criminal cases. In 1802, France would regain the Louisiana territories (after 33 years of Spanish-rule), but sell them to the United States via the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

Under Spanish Rule

French rule gave way to Spanish dominance in 1769, when the territorial rule of the French Superior Council was replaced by the Spanish establishment of Cabildo. Cabildos consisted of executive judicial officers, falling into one of two categories: regidors or alcaldes. Even though Spain "legally possessed" Louisiana from 1769-1800, it's control over the region extended until 1803.[17] During the American Revolution, Spain reluctantly entered on the side of the Revolutionaries, but made it known that they joined the fray as an ally of France--not the United States.[18]


The alcaldes were judges who had general jurisdiction over New Orleans. They were selected by regidors. In minor cases, they were final arbitrers; for appeals cases, two regidors and one alcalde would preside.


Regidors were superior judges who appointed alcaldes. Neither elected or appointed, they purchased their judgeship.

As a United States entity

LA State Court Seal

W.C.C. Claiborne was the first judicial appointment by federal leadership (Claiborne had even been a one of Jefferson's chosen commissioners to receive the territories within the Louisiana Purchase from the French). Claiborne replaced the Cabildo in New Orleans, and established a Court of Pleas (consisting of seven judges) in its stead. Judges on the Court of Pleas had limited civil and criminal jurisdiction, while Claiborne reserved for himself jurisdiction over more serious cases and appellate jurisdiction over the Court of Pleas.

Antebellum and the Civil Code

During the Antebellum period, the Louisiana Supreme Court heard some 1,200 slavery-related appeals. In most cases, the slaves were not recognized as "plantiff" or "defendant," but were often categorized as objects. Of the appeals heard by the Court during this time, "warranties in the sale of slaves was by far the most common issue."[19] Because much of Louisiana law was a legal derivative of French, Spanish and Roman law, its Civil Code contained customized regulations where the sale of slaves was involved. To understand the rulings of the Louisiana Supreme Court, it is necessary to remember not only the Civil Code but the entire civil law system of which the court was a descendant. At the time Louisiana entered the federal union many inhabitants of the state feared the imposition of the American common law system, which would have been a new law in a foreign language, and a threat to the power and prestige of those notaries, attorney, and judges practicing the civil law.[20] When Louisiana joined the Union, leaders and plebs alike believed the more widely practiced forms of common law would impede upon and erode the Louisiana judicial status quo. The intent of Louisiana's constitutional authors and legislative officials was to suffocate judicial discretion by attaching their judicial concept of justice with that of the prevailing, Louisiana-specific, civilian concept. This especially had consequences on slavery. Additionally, the orchestrated movement between constitutional fathers and legislators resulted in a constitutional limit to high court jurisdiction. Under it, the state's highest court could only rule on questions of civil dispute. These rulings had to be justified by citing the exact legislative act or Civil Code article upon which it was based. As a result, implied law and principles of equity were relegated outside Louisiana's judicial system.

Under Legislative rule

In 1813, the first legislature of Louisiana enacted a judiciary article requiring Supreme Court judges to be "learned in the law." In 1844, the Louisiana Constitutional Convention adopted a judiciary article that proved to be much more detailed than its 1812 fore-bearer.

Notable firsts

Court's impartiality questioned

Tulane University study

In February of 2008, Tulane University Law Professor Vernon Palmer and John Levendis, an economics professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, released a study[21] that concluded that Supreme Court Judges overwhelmingly rendered verdicts that favored people who had made contributions to the justices.[22] "What we show in this study is there is an unusually high correlation between campaign contributions and decisions in favor of contributors, with very little possibility of being in error because it's done statistically," Palmer said.

After researching 181 cases over 14 years, the chances of a justice ruling in a benefactor's favor increased significantly--"If a litigant or attorney had made at least one contribution to a justice the court ruled in their favor 65% of the time." Two of the seven justices had a "contributors in-favor percentage of at least 80%."[23]

Chief Justice disputes study

The Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice called the study by Tulane University Law Professor Vernon Palmer and Loyola University Professor of Economics John Levendis a "baseless and unsupported" attack. Chief Justice Pascal Calogero wrote in a statement posted on the court's Web site, that the published Tulane Law Review article relied on "flawed data and methodology in concluding that some justices have been 'wittingly or unwittingly' influenced by donations from lawyers who appear before them."

Tulane apologizes, authors don't

In September 2008, Tulane University Dean of Law, Lawrence Ponoroff, sent an apology letter to the Louisiana Supreme Court.[24] "Because of the miscalculation in the underlying data, the reliability of some or all of the authors' conclusions in the study as published has been called into question." In a September 15th, 2008 interview with The Times-Picayune, study author Professor Vernon Palmer took full responsibility for the errors found in the study, but stood by the conclusions of his study. "Yet with all the mistakes now corrected, he said, the study's conclusions, broadly speaking, are the same."[25]

External links


  1. Louisiana Supreme Court: Court History
  2. Stanford University, "State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns," October 31, 2012
  3. Qualifications of candidates
  4. Methods of Selection: Removal of Judges
  5. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2013 Annual Report," accessed September 19, 2014
  6. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2012 Annual Report," accessed September 19, 2014
  7. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2011 Annual Report"
  8. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2010 Annual Report" (dead link)
  9. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2009 Annual Report" (dead link)
  10. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2008 Annual Report"
  11. Louisiana Supreme Court, "2007 Annual Report"
  12. State Supreme Court nixes contract tax collectors
  13. Court upholds dump housing payout
  14. La. Supreme Court rules on Tulane case
  15. Court: Lake Charles judge ruled incorrectly
  16. Center for Public Integrity, "State supreme court judges reveal scant financial information," December 5, 2013
  17. Taylor, Joe Gray. Louisiana, a History (Bicentennial & Historical Guide). W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1984.
  18. Taylor, Joe Gray. Louisiana, a History (Bicentennial & Historical Guide). W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1984.
  19. Schafer, Judith K. "'Guaranteed Against the Vices and Maladies Prescribed by Law': Consumer Protection, the law of Slave Sales, and the Supreme Court in Antebellum Louisiana." The American Journal of Legal History, vol. 31, no. 4 (October, 1987).
  20. Schafer, Judith K. "'Guaranteed Against the Vices and Maladies Prescribed by Law': Consumer Protection, the law of Slave Sales, and the Supreme Court in Antebellum Louisiana." The American Journal of Legal History, vol. 31, no. 4 (October, 1987).
  21. "Palmer/Levendis study" (dead link)
  22. "Money and Judicial rulings"
  23. "Looking Anew at Campaign Cash and Elected Judges"
  24. "Apology Letter" (dead link)
  25. "Tulane Law School issues apology to Louisiana Supreme Court"


Unopposed   Scott Crichton (Associate justice 2nd District)


See also: Louisiana judicial elections, 2012
CandidateIncumbencyPartyPlacePrimary VoteElection Vote
HughesJefferson Hughes   ApprovedANoRepublican5th District21.2%ApprovedA52.8%   ApprovedA
SanfordJeffry L. Sanford    NoLibertarian5th District1.0% 
WelchJewel Welch    NoRepublican5th District11.1% 
GuidryJohn Guidry    NoDemocratic5th District27.5%ApprovedA47.2%   DefeatedD
WeimerJohn L. Weimer   ApprovedAYesDemocratic6th District   ApprovedA
PiersonMary Olive Pierson    NoDemocratic5th District14.8% 
KellyTim Kelley    NoRepublican5th District3.1% 
HigginbothamToni M. Higginbotham    NoRepublican5th District10.8% 
MorvantWilliam Morvant    NoRepublican5th District10.7% 


See also: Louisiana judicial elections, 2010
Louisiana Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Bernette Johnson (D) Green check mark transparent.png n/a 100%


See also: State Supreme Court elections, 2008

Greg Guidry and James E. Kuhn ran to fill the seat left vacant by Pascal Calogero. Guidry defeated Kuhn 60% to 40%.

Louisiana Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Greg Guidry (R) Green check mark transparent.png n/a 60%
James E. Kuhn (R) n/a 40%

Incumbent Catherine Kimball defeated challenger Jefferson Hughes to retain her seat.

Louisiana Supreme Court
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Catherine Kimball (D) Green check mark transparent.png n/a 65%
Jefferson Hughes (R) n/a 35%

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