Renomination of Ronnie White sought by Reps. Gephardt, Clay

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- For the second time this year, St. Louis Democratic congressmen Dick Gephardt and William Lacy Clay are urging President Bush to renominate Missouri Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronnie L. White to the federal bench.

Gephardt and Clay, along with Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Mich., wrote to Bush on Monday, asking the president to nominate White for the vacancy created when 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Theodore McMillian took senior status effective July 1. McMillian was the only black among 12 members of the St. Louis-based appellate court.

"We strongly support the continued effort to develop a federal judiciary that is as diverse and representative as the citizens of this great country," the letter to Bush read. It noted that of 179 federal appeals judges nationwide, only 12 are black.

The effort comes on the same day NAACP president Kweisi Mfume criticized Gephardt and fellow Democratic presidential candidates Joe Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich for skipping the group's presidential forum in Miami Beach, Fla. Mfume said the three have become "persona non grata" among black voters.

Gephardt said he missed the event because of a prior family obligation. Lieberman said he was campaigning. Kucinich said he wanted to be in Washington for votes in the House.

Gephardt and Clay have twice earlier asked Bush to appoint White to federal vacancies, most recently in January, when another vacancy at the 8th Circuit became open. Bush refused both times.

White, in a telephone interview, said he was still interested in a federal post.

"I would be interested in any federal position that Congressmen Clay and Gephardt would consider me for and make a recommendation to the president for.

"I'm not going to speculate on what might happen -- it's too soon -- but I would be interested."

White House spokesman Scott Stanzel also wouldn't speculate on whether White would be nominated.

"President Bush will nominate a highly qualified individual with experience and intellect," Stanzel said.

On July 1, White, 50, took over as the first black chief justice of the state Supreme Court. He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1995 -- also as the court's first black justice.

White, who grew up in a segregated part of St. Louis, was twice nominated by former President Bill Clinton to serve on the federal bench. But former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., now attorney general, led a Senate fight against White that ended in 1999 with the defeat of his nomination.

Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor, contended at the time that White was soft on the death penalty, calling him "pro-criminal" because of his votes to overturn death penalty sentences.

Two years later, White testified against Ashcroft as the Senate considered whether to confirm Ashcroft as attorney general, saying Ashcroft "seriously distorted my record."

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