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Missouri Supreme Court celebrates newest judge

by Ryan Pivoney | May 18, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Judge Robin Ransom, of St. Louis, is the first Black woman to serve on the state’s highest court. (Shelby Kardell/The Missouri Bar photo)

Judge Robin Ransom was embracing the moment Tuesday.

Chief Justice Paul Wilson called a special session of the Missouri Supreme Court for Ransom's investiture ceremony. Ransom, of St. Louis, is the first Black woman to serve on the state's highest court.

The investiture ceremony is a formal occasion marking a new judge's position on the court. Following remarks at Tuesday's ceremony, Ransom took the Oath of Office and was enrobed in the distinct garb of Supreme Court judges.

A humble yet self-assured judge, Ransom said she initially underestimated the importance of the ceremony and its meaning to her family and state. Her father was a firefighter and worked in a segregated fire station in St. Louis.

"I was born Robin Michelle Ransom -- you will not see 'judge' anywhere on that birth certificate," she said. "And while I'm appreciative of the job and the title, neither of those will ever define who I am as a person."

Humility was instilled in Ransom at a young age, she said, as her parents embodied characteristics and values she still carries with her today.

"I've been me a long time, and I know what that means," Ransom said. "Whatever I was growing up, I'm just more of that right now. I'm self-reliant, confident, stoic, unflappable in all situations, and that's because that's how we were raised."

Gov. Mike Parson appointed Ransom to the Missouri Supreme Court in May 2021 to replace Laura Denvir Stith, who served on the bench for 20 years. Ransom will be on the ballot for a retention vote this November and may serve a 12-year term if a majority of voters decide to keep her on the bench.

Prior to the Supreme Court, Ransom served in a variety of judicial roles for nearly 20 years. Most recently a judge for Missouri's Eastern District Court of Appeals, she also served as a circuit judge and family court division commissioner.

Parson selected Ransom for the Supreme Court three days after the nomination of three candidates, but the two were familiar because Parson appointed her to the Court of Appeals in 2019.

"I'm glad that she's an African American and I'm glad that she's on the Supreme Court, but she got picked because she's qualified," Parson said at Tuesday's ceremony. "She was the best candidate for the job."

Parson, who has appointed almost 90 of Missouri's more than 300 judges, said he searches for the most qualified person when making appointments because it's a decision with enduring results.

The best of the best sit on the Supreme Court, Parson said, because they affect the lives of Missourians, even those they'll never meet. And Missourians depend on those decisions to set the tone for the state, he said.

"I believe her character stands for itself," Parson said of Ransom.

Parson said it didn't take long to understand where Ransom's roots came from after meeting her mother, and he expects her to continue working hard, respecting others and treating people with respect while on the bench.

Ransom has served on the Supreme Court for nearly a year and said the experience so far has been welcoming and encouraging.

Wilson, the chief justice, said the experience has given the court a chance to see Ransom up close.

"I tell you from the bottom of my heart and I think I speak for all of my colleagues, we are not thrilled," Wilson said. "She is smarter than we are, she works harder than we do and she's nicer than we are. But I can tell you, she is easy to admire, and we do. She is easy to respect, and we do. And she is easy to love, and we do."

Wilson said the court will strive to live up to the example Ransom sets, and he looks forward to serving with her for many years.

Former colleagues and longtime friends took turns at Tuesday's ceremony congratulating Ransom and sharing the lasting impressions she's left on them.

James Dowd, a judge with the Eastern District Court of Appeals, encouraged Ransom to keep her frequent smile and laughter and to maintain the fundamental character trait of self-worth.

While growing up, Ransom would bus from North St. Louis to the south end of the city to take part in a bowling league, Dowd said.

"So began a lifelong love of bowling, but I reckon she learned more than bowling from that experience," Dowd said. "She learned it. She got it. And she gives voice to it when she says, and she does frequently, something like, 'I'm just Robin. That's all I can be.'"

Ransom said if she couldn't be a professional bowler, she would've chosen to be a rockstar because she sings day and night. It puts her in the right headspace, she said, and she loves the lyrics.

"I was going to sing to you all today," she said. "But I was worried that there may be, like, some (American) Idol scouts, and I'd really hate to leave this gig so soon."

Whether it's praising God with Walter Hawkins, reflecting on her team's success while listening to Drake or embodying the spirit of ABBA's "Dancing Queen," Ransom said music helps her approach life like a rowboat and move with the current.

She's not waiting to see what's next, she said, but is instead enjoying her experiences now.

  photo  Shelby Kardell/The Missouri Bar In an investiture ceremony Tuesday, Judge Robin Ransom took the Oath of Office and was enrobed in the distinct garb of Supreme Court judges. Holding the Bible are her daughter Ryan and son Alex.

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