Supreme Court departure gives Gov. chance to notch one for GOP

Legal News Line May 21, 2007, 9:00am

Justice Ronnie White

JEFFERSON CITY -- Missouri Governor Matt Blunt can finally break a 15-year Republican drought on the state's Supreme Court. But after a five-judge string of Democratic appointments, the best the governor can hope for is to alter its balance rather than tip it. Friday's announced retirement of Justice Ronnie White from the Supreme Court after 12 years gives Blunt an opportunity to nominate a conservative judge to replace him. Brown was appointed by Democratic Governor Mel Carnahan in 1995. Missouri Supreme Court vacancies are filled by the Governor, who picks one of the three candidates sent him by a non-partisan screening committee. No Republican has made such a pick since 1992. Five of the sitting seven, including Justice White, were appointed by Democratic governors. Carnahan elevated White and current Chief Justice Michael A. Woolf while Gov. Bob Holden appointed Justices Laura Denvir Stith, Richard B. Teitelman and Mary Rhodes Russell. Only Justice William Ray Price, Jr. and Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. were appointed by GOP Gov. John Ashcroft prior to Carnahan's election in 1993. The imminent retirement of White, the state's first African-American Supreme Court Justice, has been hot gossip at the state capital in recent years, local reports say. Friends have apparently been counseling him against it for fear he'll be replaced by a conservative. White's extensive resume includes serving three terms as a Democratic representative in Missouri's lower house before Carnahan moved him to the Court of Appeals in St. Louis and then the Supreme Court. He served a stint as Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice from 2003 to 2005. President Bill Clinton in 1999 nominated White for a federal district judgeship but he was defeated in the Senate after a concerted push against him led by then-U.S. Senator John Ashcroft. White will qualify for a full judicial pension when he turns 55 next year.

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