WELCOME TO THE OFFICIAL RICHARD E GERSTEIN JUSTICE BUILDING BLOG. THIS BLOG IS DEDICATED TO JUSTICE BUILDING RUMOR, HUMOR, AND A DISCUSSION ABOUT AND BETWEEN THE JUDGES, LAWYERS AND THE DEDICATED SUPPORT STAFF, CLERKS, COURT REPORTERS, AND CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS WHO LABOR IN THE WORLD OF MIAMI'S CRIMINAL JUSTICE. THIS BLOG HAS BEEN CALLED "THE DEFINITIVE BLOG ON MIAMI CRIMINAL LAW" BY THE NY TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, AND THE POPE. POST YOUR COMMENTS, OR SEND RUMPOLE A PRIVATE EMAIL AT HOWARDROARK21@GMAIL.COM

Monday, July 29, 2019

JUDGE FRANK JOHNSON



A while back we wondered where the Judge Frank Johnsons had gone.

Perhaps it’s time to delve a little deeper into a Judge who most decidedly did more than call balls and strikes.

Frank Johnson was born and raised in Alabama. He attended the University of Alabama and the University of Alabama School or Law.

 He fought in Europe in WWII before returning to Alabama where he practiced law and became active in Republican politics at a time when Southern Democratic Senators formed the bulwark against desegregation laws. 



Johnson was confirmed by the Senate after being nominated by President Eisenhower in 1956. He served as chief judge of the court from 1966-1979. In 1979 he was appointed to the Fifth Circuit by President Carter after Johnson had to withdraw from being nominated to head the FBI for health reasons.






Johnson ruled on several important and famous desegregation cases. In a case of the man meeting the times, Judge Johnson was the right man, in the right place, at the right time when his nation needed him most.  In 1956 Johnson struck down the “blacks in the back of the bus law” of the City of Montgomery of Alabama. The law became notorious when Rosa Parks refused to obey it.


In orders issued in 1961 and 1962, he ordered the desegregation of bus depots including the Montgomery, Alabama Greyhound Bus Station and the Montgomery airport. At a time when most poor, black people traveled the south by bus, the integration of bus stations was a monumental task. 


In March 1965, Judge Johnson ruled against governor George Wallace and held  that civil rights activists had the right to march  from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery as a way to petition the government. 25,000 Americans marched into Montgomery on  March 25, 1965. The march  was considered integral to gaining passage by Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Governor Wallace wanted to deny the petitioners the right to march based on “public safety”. How many of our “balls and strikes” Judges who have been appointed and elevated by pledging over and over again that they will not legislate from the bench would have the courage to take on a Governor in the deep south on an issue like this?

Remember this was Alabama in the 1960’s. A cross was burned on Judge Johnson’s lawn and his mother’s house was bombed. In 1961 Johnson found that both the Ku Klux Klan and the Montgomery police department were beating and harassing Freedom Riders who were attempting to integrate bus travel in the south.

Johnson had protection by the federal marshal’s service for twenty years. He was ostracized in his community and by many of his colleagues. Like Churchill as a back-bencher in the 1930’s, in many ways Judge Frank Johnson stood alone in Alabama.

In 1961 in Gomillion v. Lightfoot Judge Johnson struck down Alabama’s attempt to redistrict voting districts in a way to disenfranchise black voters. Judge’s stopping illegal redistricting? That’s a popular topic these days.

In 1963 in Lee v. Macon County Board of Ed, all Judge Johnson did was desegregate public schools in Alabama. Just callin balls and strikes, yup. No legislating from the bench here. Can’t have a judge do that y’all.

In 1966 in White v. Cook Judge Johnson held that Alabama must permit both black male and females to serve on juries.

In 1966 in United States v. Alabama,  Judge Johnson declared the poll tax in Alabama unconstitutional.

In 1969 in Weeks v. Southern Bell Judge Johnson held that  women had a statutory right to choose, for themselves, whether to work in physically demanding jobs that were historically performed by men.

In 1970 he ordered the Montgomery YMCA desegregated.

In 1971 in Wyatt v. Stickney he held that people with mental illness who had been involuntarily committed had a right to treatment for their illness.  We guess Judge Johnson didn’t get the Miami-Dade Memo about judges not ordering jails to treat inmates.

President Clinton awarded Judge Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The Federal District Courthouse in Montgomery, Alabama is named in his honor.

We live in a time when executives are appointing judges who are falling all over themselves pledging to not consider right and wrong. These Judges are desperate to prove that whatever the legislature says, they will do. In other words, they will just follow orders. Children are held in cages because the executive has the power over the borders. No soap or toothbrushes for them, because the law doesn’t require it. And Judges are just fine with it because we don’t have many Frank Johnsons anymore.

Although the dim light of oppression has darkened our land, there are lights and we have hope. Sometimes that light comes from a soul who touched the world around him and made it better. There aren’t many Frank Johnsons on the bench these days, but that doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. Johnson was a Republican. The South back then was 99% New Deal Democrats. So politically, he did not give a flying hoot about the political backlash and being sneered at on Saturday mornings as he prepared to tee off at The Gone With The Wind country club.
2. The cases you mention were no brainers. The difficulty laid in having the decisions enforced. Once Brown was decided in 1954, all subsequent decisions fell into a nice logical order.
3. For what it is worth (and it is worth a lot), anyone interested in the dynamics of Old South Democrats and the emerging civil rights movement of the '50's and '60's should read Robert Caro's biography of LBJ. He did what JFK could never have done: destroy the Maginot Line of senate segregationists and pass the necessary legislation to end segregation.
4. And a footnote to it all: a la Biden, LBJ was a very close confidant of Richard Russell, the arch segregationist from Georgia. Yet that did not stop him from cajoling all of these racist old men from allowing his legislation to at least be voted on (which is all that was needed).

Anonymous said...

Frank Johnsos wasn't legislating from the bench. He was calling balls and strikes according to the rule book, the Constitution.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree with this column more. Judicial selection now is all about loyalty and following orders. Courage, not so much.