Seven Black Robes: Riding Circuit with the LA Supreme Court

By: Tori Watson

To the average citizen, the words “Supreme Court” will likely spark images of nameless, faceless figures and black robes. But to the average law student, influenced by countless hours spent reading hundreds of pages of opinions and dissent, the court takes on a whole new meaning. Last month, students at the LSU Law Center had the unique opportunity to witness the Louisiana Supreme Court in action. On January 23rd, the highest court in the state heard oral arguments in our very own Robinson Courtroom, for the first time since 1998.

At 2:00 p.m., the seven justices entered the courtroom and took their places, from left to right: Justice Genovese, Justice Hughes, Justice Guidry, Justice Johnson, Justice Weimer, Justice Clark, and Justice Crichton. Unlike the United States Supreme Court, justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court are elected, not appointed, and serve 10-year terms, rather than lifetime tenure. Of the seven current justices, six received their law degree from the LSU Law Center. Education aside, each justice brings his or her own unique talents and experiences to the court. Justice Greg G. Guidry studied classical civilizations and Roman law in South Africa; Justice Scott J. Crichton co-hosts a radio program; Justice James T. Genovese was a four-year college tennis player; and Justice Marcus R. Clark started his career working in his family’s Laundromat, just to name a few.

Over the next few hours, the court heard arguments on two cases. Nick Alegro is a 1L student at LSU who was present in the courtroom throughout the afternoon. He noticed that the justices were cognizant of the fact that students were present, making sure to address the audience with explanations of complex legal processes and judicial jargon as needed. The first case, a medical malpractice suit, involved the wrongful death of a baby who had been admitted to the hospital with possible respiratory issues. The second, a murder case, involved a district attorney who allegedly failed to follow through on a deal he had made with the defendant. 2L student Ben Wallace described the experience as an exciting one.

“The bench was hot. It was really interesting to see the back-and-forth between the bench and the attorneys,” Wallace noted. “Almost every judge got involved at some point.”

Following arguments, the justices joined the students and faculty in the lounge for a reception. Mr. Alegro notes that this part of the afternoon was his favorite.

“What I found to be the most interesting is the stark contrast between how the justices behaved while sitting for oral arguments and how they conducted themselves after the arguments were complete,” Alegro said.

He continued, “While sitting on the bench, they all have a strong, stern presence. It would seem however, that once those robes came off, they were all really fun and interesting people.”

Alegro even had an opportunity to interact with several the justices one-on-one.

“Justices Genovese, Crichton, and Clark were telling stories and jokes while enjoying some beers. Justice Weimer was very nice and wanted to know more about us.”

Overall, the reaction of LSU Law students to this real-life encounter with the Louisiana Supreme Court proved to be inspirational.

Mr. Wallace agrees. “Watching some of the attorneys struggle to answer the questions was a bit encouraging. The takeaway was that even people who have been in practice for a long time can struggle under the pressure of seven black robes.”