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Parson names first Black woman to Missouri Supreme Court

Robin Ransom grew up in north St. Louis; 'I have never lived by a label'

Judge Robin Ransom will be the first Black woman to sit on the Missouri Supreme Court, Gov. Mike Parson announced Monday.

Parson selected Ransom, who has almost 20 years’ experience in judicial roles, over two other nominees made public Friday by the Appellate Judicial Commission.

Ransom, a judge of the Eastern District Court of Appeals since January 2019, appeared with Parson at a news conference as he announced the selection.

“I am confident that she will continue to be a fair enforcer of the law, faithfully interpret the law as written and reasonably consider decisions made at the trial and appellate level,” Parson said. 

Ransom grew up in north St. Louis and said she realized “the historic nature of this appointment” and how it would please her father, who was a city firefighter who worked in a segregated fire station.

“While I may be the first African-American woman to be a part of this court, I would like to say I have never lived by a label or any identity anyone has tried to put upon me,” Ransom said.

She was selected over Circuit Judge William Corrigan of St. Louis County, appointed to the bench by Parson in November, and Judge Donald Burrell of the Southern District Court of Appeals, who was appointed to his current post in 2008 by Gov. Matt Blunt. 

Ransom, Corrigan and Burrell were nominated from among 25 applicants screened by the nominating commission. The applicants included eight women and four minority candidates.

Parson called the selection a tough choice but said Ransom stood out.

“Her professional career stands on its own merits,” Parson said. “The reality of it is that she is the best qualified candidate for the Supreme Court and that is why she was chosen for that position.”

Parson, who had 60 days to consider his decision, said he wanted to move quickly because his staff had thoroughly reviewed possible candidates and he was familiar with all three.

“It was a position I felt there was no need to linger on,” Parson said.

The interview for the high court built on the relationship that began when Parson appointed her to the appeals court, Ransom said.

“It gave both the governor and myself a familiarity with each other, our temperaments,” Ransom said. “He knows my work history and I just think that gave him a really good background so our interviews and conversations were very simple.”

Ransom replaces Judge Laura Denvir Stith, who retired in March. Under the provisions of the Missouri Nonpartisan Court Plan, Ransom will be on the ballot in November 2022 for a retention vote. If she receives a majority vote, she will serve a 12-year term.

The selection increases diversity on the high court by making Ransom the second Black judge on the seven member court, along with Chief Justice George Draper III. 

“Judge Ransom brings years of experience to our bench,” Draper said in a statement, “with a distinguished career in litigation, family courts and the trial bench before her appellate service. She also is a trailblazer, becoming the first woman of color ever to serve on our state’s high court. She is passionate about the law, and we welcome the energy, enthusiasm and experience she brings to our bench.”

Ronnie White was the only previous Black member of the Supreme Court, serving from 1995 to 2007. He is currently a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

“In nearly 200 years of statehood, only two Black judges – and no Black women – have served on the Missouri Supreme Court,” state Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Kansas City Democrat and chair of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus, said in a news release. “We are pleased to see Black women finally represented on our highest court with the appointment of Judge Robin Ransom. Although this is a historic day, the fact that it took two centuries to happen highlights the continued need to address inequities in all aspects of Missouri’s judicial system.”

Prior to 1988, the Missouri Supreme Court had only white male judges. The first woman to be appointed to the court was Ann Covington, appointed by Gov. John Ashcroft. 

Ransom was the presiding judge of the 22nd Judicial Circuit in St. Louis when Parson picked her for the Court of Appeals. Blunt appointed her as circuit judge in 2008 after Ransom had served six years as a family court commissioner in St. Louis.

Prior to taking appointment in the courts, Ransom worked as a public defender, a prosecutor and staff attorney for the St. Louis County Family Court.

Ransom received her law degree from the University of Missouri in 1991.

This article by Rudi Keller is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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