Black History Month: Ronnie White, first African-American to serve on Missouri's Supreme Court

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Ronnie White, the first African-American to serve on Missouri’s Supreme Court, spent more than three decades in the courtroom. 

After being raised in St. Louis, White graduated from UMKC Law School in 1983.

White then served for six years as a Democratic member of the Missouri House of Representatives.

In October 1995, White was then appointed to the Supreme Court of Missouri, becoming the first African-American Chief Justice.

Two years later, President Bill Clinton nominated White for a United States district court seat. White’s nomination was met with resistance from then-Senator John Ashcroft.

Ashcroft claimed White was ‘pro-criminal’ due to White’s opinion in death penalty cases when he served on Missouri’s Supreme Court.

White’s nomination failed in the U.S. Senate after a 53-44 party-line vote.

Democrats criticized Republican opposition to White’s nomination, and it quickly became an issue over race.

Nearly two decades later, President Barack Obama nominated White to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

White was approved by a nine-vote margin, 54-45, which was the same margin that his nomination was defeated by in 1999.

Many senators agreed that White’s nomination was long overdue.

“It is not often that the Senate has a chance to go back and fix a grievous error in our history. That error happened in 1999, when a good and qualified man was defeated in the United States Senate for a position on the Eastern District Court for the federal bench in Missouri.” said Senator Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

White retired in June 2007. 

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