President says it’s not a political move
Last month, Judge Robin Ransombecame the first Black woman to be appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court and was only the fifth woman to serve on the state’s highest court since its founding in 1820 and is Missouri Gov. Mike Parson’s first Supreme Court appointment.
Steven Harmon said members of the Mound City Bar are thrilled that Ransom, who is a member of the association, was appointed.
Harmon is president of the Mound City Bar, which is the oldest African American bar association west of the Mississippi River. It was organized as the St. Louis Negro Bar Association in 1922 when Black lawyers were not allowed to join the all-white St. Louis Bar Association.
“It’s a great honor for her and for our association, but back to the perspective regarding the governor's appointment, I mean, I, myself, as well as our members, we're pleased that he made the appointment,” Harmon said.
“He has appointed other African American judges to the circuit bench, but this is his first appointment to the supreme court, so we're just thrilled with that.”
Harmon said that while local media outlets characterized the governor’s appointment as a political move to garner support from the state’s Black voters, he doesn’t see it that way.
“I don't look at it as that so much as that Judge Ransom was qualified for the appointment and it's well deserved,” he said. “So, I don't want to, I guess, diminish her appointment and reduce it down to a statement of she was appointed by a Republican governor — who in these times is trying to either mend fences or build bridges or to reach out to the African American Community to arner support. I don’t think it’s about that, at least from my perspective.”
He doesn’t believe her appointment will alter the political landscape within the state or the judicial landscape at large.
“If we were talking about the Supreme Court of the United States, we'd probably be having a different discussion,” Harmon said, “So yeah, I don't think it'll really alter things dramatically politically or judicially.”
Kimberly Norwood, a Washington University School of Law professor, bristles at the thought that Ransom is not qualified and chides critics who say her race got her the job.
“Amazingly, even though judicial appointments state-wide have been overwhelmingly White and overwhelmingly male, there is almost never any challenge to the Governor’s appointments based on race when that selection is made of a white nominee,” she wrote in response to a letter in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“White nominees are assumed to be qualified. Yet, the minute a person of color, a Black person in this case, is nominated, the person is presumed to be unqualified.
“Are we really about to accept another big lie; that every white person appointed to the court has been selected and appointed based on merit and not based on race? Why do some only seem to be concerned with merit and qualifications when the person involved is Black?”
The Missouri Supreme Court has had two other Black judges — Ronnie White and George Draper III — both of whom are also members of the Mound City Bar.
White served on the court from October 1995 through July 2007 and served a two-year term as chief justice through June 2005. He was the first Black person appointed to the court.
Draper was appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court in October 2011 and is still serving as a justice. He’s been chief justice since July 2019, with his term set to expire at the end of the month.
Harmon said Ransom’s appointment is another impressive gain for Black women across the country.
“This is another shining example of Black girl magic, so to speak, if you notice a lot going on, not just locally here in Missouri ... [but] as well as other cities and states around the country, a lot of African American women are making gains and achieving offices and appointments that have never been held by African American women.”
The four women — all white — who served on the Missouri Supreme Court before Judge Ransom are Judge Ann K. Covington, who was the first woman appointed to the court in 1989 and served until 2001; Judge Patricia A. Breckenridge, who was appointed in 2007 and is still serving; Judge Mary Rhodes Russell, who was appointed in 2004 and is still serving; and Judge Stith, who was appointed in 2001 and retired in March.