JEFFERSON CITY - A Missouri judge rejected in 1999 by U.S. Senate Republicans, led by then-U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft, will become the state Supreme Court's first black chief justice.
Current Chief Justice Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. announced Wednesday in his State of the Judiciary address that Judge Ronnie White will follow him as chief justice. White will begin his two-year rotation on July 1.
"It is high time that an African-American is represented in the office of Chief Justice," Limbaugh said.
Pres. Bill Clinton had nominated White for a federal judgeship and the U.S. Senate rejected the appointment. White became the first black member of the state Supreme Court when he was appointed by Gov. Mel Carnahan in 1995.
House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, said she is "thrilled" about White's role as chief justice.
The chief justice is elected by the judges of the Supreme Court, in accordance with the Missouri Constitution. Typically, the judges serve in two-year rotations with the most senior member assuming the position of chief justice and then moving to the end of the line at the end of the term.
Limbaugh also announced the creation of a commission of judges and legislators to deal with juvenile cases and foster care.
Limbaugh acknowledged the criticisms that have arisen against how courts have handled removal of children from parental custody.
Judges have been criticized for removing children from their homes too often and delays in hearing cases families whose children have been removed. Lack of communication between the courts and the state's Family Services Division is another recurring complaint, Limbaugh said.
"Whether the truth of the allegations is perception or reality, the unfortunate result, of course, is public distrust and a lack of confidence in the system," Limbaugh said.
The chairman of the commission announced by Limbaugh, Judge John Holstein, said he has no specific objectives for the commission at this time but welcomes suggestions.
"The idea is for us to have input because we are the ones down in the trenches," Limbaugh said.
Limbaugh also said the judiciary will consider opening some court proceedings "so that there is a better balance between the need to protect the privacy of children and the need to inform the public and shed light on the system."