Senate confirms Ronnie L. White as federal judge in Missouri

Wednesday, July 16, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — A former Missouri Supreme Court judge whose two previous nominations to the federal bench were blocked in Washington was confirmed a U.S. District Court judge on Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate voted 53-44 in support of Ronnie L. White's nomination by President Barack Obama. White, 61, was previously nominated to the post by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and again in 1999. The St. Louis native and former state lawmaker was the first black judge on the state Supreme Court, serving there from 1995 to 2007, including two years as chief justice.

White is currently a lawyer in private practice in St. Louis.

Former Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri, a Republican member of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee, helped derail White's second nomination. The former Missouri governor said White, a Democrat, was "pro-criminal," and an activist judge who was soft on the death penalty and drug law enforcement. White's first nomination expired when it wasn't voted upon.

Wednesday's Senate vote was split along party lines, with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine the only Republican to support White. The Republican opposition included Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri's senior senator.

In a Senate floor speech, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said White's judicial record had been distorted for political purposes, noting that he voted to uphold the death penalty in nearly 70 percent of the cases he had reviewed as a high court judge at the time of his earlier nominations.

"It's not often that the Senate has a chance to go back and fix a grievous error," McCaskill said. "There was an attack on Ronnie White for being 'soft on crime,' (but his record) flies in the face of that assertion."

In a written statement, Gov. Jay Nixon called White's confirmation to the federal court's Eastern District of Missouri, which is based in St. Louis, "long overdue."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he voted against White's nomination in part because White had previously said judicial opinions can be "shaped by experiences."

"I just have too many questions about his ability to keep his personal considerations separate from his judicial opinions," Grassley said.

After his unsuccessful nominations more than a decade ago, White testified against Ashcroft in a U.S. Senate confirmation hearing after Ashcroft was nominated by President George W. Bush to become attorney general. White contended that Ashcroft had "seriously distorted" his record as a judge

White did not respond to an interview request from The Associated Press.

He is a graduate of Saint Louis University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City law school and has taught as an adjunct law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. Before serving on the state Supreme Court. White defended indigent suspects for the St. Louis public defender's office, worked as city counselor under St. Louis Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr. and sat on the Eastern District of the state Court of Appeals.

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