JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Mike Parson named Judge Robin Ransom as his pick to fill a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court on Monday, making her the first Black woman to serve on the state’s highest court.
Ransom, 54, who grew up on the north side of St. Louis, was among three finalists for the post that opened in March when Judge Laura Denvir Stith retired after two decades on the bench.
“I am confident she will be a fair enforcer of the law,” Parson said at a press conference outside his office.
“Of course it is not lost on me the historic nature of this appointment, to be the first African American woman appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court,” Ransom said. “This is a very happy day for my mom, myself and my entire family.”
Ransom, the daughter of a firefighter, is a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, in St. Louis. She earned her bachelor of arts in political science and sociology in 1988 from Douglass Residential College at Rutgers University, and her law degree in 1991 from the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law.
She had previously served as the first Black woman to lead the 22nd Judicial Circuit after serving as a judge there since 2008.
Ransom also has worked for the St. Louis County public defender’s office and the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney’s office, as well as the St. Louis County Family Court-Juvenile Division. She was later appointed to be Family Court commissioner in 2002 and remained there until her appointment to the circuit court in 2008.
“As a lawyer and a judge I’ve tried to be compassionate,” Ransom said.
Others in the running included Don Burrell, 61, who is a judge on the Missouri Court of Appeals, Southern District, in Springfield, and William Corrigan, 63, who is a circuit judge in the 21st Judicial Circuit (St. Louis County) in Clayton.
Stith retired in March after 20 years on the high court. She served as chief justice from 2007 to 2009, the second woman to hold the position in Missouri.
Monday’s announcement came just one working day after a commission headed by Supreme Court Justice George Draper III announced the trio of nominees after more than eight hours of interviews, four hours of deliberations and nine rounds of balloting. There had been 25 applicants for the job on the seven-member court.
“On behalf of all my colleagues on the Court, it is my great pleasure to welcome Judge Robin Ransom to the state’s highest court,” Draper said in a statement. “Judge Ransom brings years of experience to our bench, 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.”
The announcement marks the first time Parson has had a chance to choose a member of the court that likely will decide key cases, including whether the state is obligated to expand Medicaid after voters approved the expansion in August.
The governor, a Republican, said he chose Ransom largely because he was familiar with her work from when he picked her for the appeals court position two years ago.
“There was no need to linger on this,” Parson said. “Her professional career stands on its own merits.”
The pick drew praise from Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, D-Kansas City, who is chairwoman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus.
“In nearly 200 years of statehood, only two Black judges — and no Black women — have served on the Missouri Supreme Court. 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,” she said.
Under Missouri’s Nonpartisan Court Plan, the governor had 60 days to select one member of the panel to fill the vacancy. If he hadn’t made the pick after that time period, the constitution directs the commission to make the appointment.
Supporters of the plan say it’s designed to ensure that judges are picked based on merit and not political affiliation. But some Republican lawmakers have called for changes to the system, arguing trial attorneys have too much influence over the judges tasked with hearing their cases.
Legislation altering the process did not advance in the Legislature this spring.