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Justice Matters: Former Governor Remembered for Breaking Gender Barrier in Nonpartisan Judicial Appointments

   

Justice Matters: Former Governor Remembered for Breaking Gender Barrier in

Nonpartisan Judicial Appointments

23 May 2014

 

The following reflections of Missouri Chief Justice Mary R. Russell make up

her most recent Justice Matters column.

 

Earlier this month, Missouri lost former Governor Joseph Teasdale. As I

read the news coverage of “Walkin’ Joe’s” legacy, it occurred to me

something was missing from those articles: In 1978, Teasdale became the

first governor to appoint a woman to the bench under the nonpartisan court

plan. Women previously had served as judges in other parts of the state, by

virtue of an election or the occasional appointment to a midterm vacancy,

but no governor ever had selected a woman to serve on one of the courts

governed by the Missouri Plan.

When Governor Teasdale selected Ann Niederlander to be an associate

circuit judge in St. Louis County, she was the first woman elevated to the

bench through Missouri’s nonpartisan court plan. Then, in 1979, Teasdale

selected Anna Forder to serve as a circuit judge in St. Louis city. Through

these appointments, Teasdale opened doors for more women – as well as his

successors in office.

Nine years and two governors later, history again was made as women were

chosen as judges for Missouri’s appeals court. In 1987, then-Governor John

Ashcroft selected Ann Covington for that court’s western district, and the

next year, he selected Jean Hamilton to be the first woman to serve on the

appeals court’s eastern district. It took another 13 years and another

three governors, however, before the first woman was selected for the court

of appeals’ southern district – Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer, appointed in 2001

by then-Governor Bob Holden.

 

The first woman selected for the state’s high court did not occur until

1989, when Ann Covington was appointed by Governor Ashcroft. I now am the

third woman to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of Missouri and its

third female chief justice.

 

We have come a long way since the United States Supreme Court, more than a

century ago, upheld Illinois’ denial of a woman’s application for admission

to the bar, noting in its 1873 decision: “The natural and proper timidity

and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many

of the occupations of civil life. … [T]he paramount destiny and mission of

woman are to fulfill the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.”

 

Thanks to the trend begun by Governor Teasdale, we – thankfully – have

moved well beyond talking about “firsts” on the bench for Missouri women.

 

 

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