Judge Robin Ransom had just left a bowling tournament with her friends and was headed to dinner at Happy China in St. Louis when a 573 number flashed across the screen. Knowing it was likely a Jefferson City number, Ransom shushed her friends but disappointment began to set in when she heard Andrew Bailey, the governor’s general counsel, on the other end of the phone.
But then Bailey asked her to wait, and it clicked: She wouldn’t be on hold if Gov. Mike Parson had not picked her for the open position on the Supreme Court of Missouri.
Ransom is slated to begin work officially this week in the iconic red-brick building across from the Capitol — about two weeks after Parson officially introduced her as his pick for the bench. She’s coming to the state’s highest court after serving as a judge on the Court of Appeals Eastern District, having previously worked as a circuit judge and in family court and as a prosecutor.
During her interviews for the open Supreme Court seat, Ransom was one of the few applicants to describe herself as a “strict constructionist,” meaning she interprets the law as: “it is what it is and says what it says.”
“I always say — and I think I said in the interview — I’ve never been creative with what I think the law means,” Ransom said in an exclusive interview with The Missouri Times. “There are laws with outcomes you’re going to like and there are laws and procedures that have outcomes that you personally don’t like. But that part is not what the judicial system and job are about; it’s about doing what the law says, and it’s not the popular decision all the time.”
“The law is not to be manipulated and bent and twisted to meet the outcome that I want. If the interpretation can be different, that’s one thing. But getting creative with it is something else, and that’s just not something I’m willing to do.”
It’s paramount, Ransom said, for judges to compartmentalize — separating emotions and personal lives from what the law actually says. She also said she doesn’t view the job as a box to check in order to climb the career ladder but as a way to contribute to society.
“Someone told me once that the robe had magic powers — once you put it on, you can do whatever you want,” Ransom said. “Being important in the workplace has never been a goal because I’m important in so many other areas that are important to me. The job affords me the ability to take care of myself and my family and do what I think we should all do, which is to give back and contribute to society.”
Ransom is a graduate of Rosati-Kain High School, a private Catholic school in St. Louis. Her father, a firefighter, took her out of public school after a second labor strike disrupted her education.
“At the end of the day, I don’t fall into a label, and I don’t let anyone box me into a label. When they say, ‘how do you feel about or approach doing your job,’ I do what I feel is right. It might not be what’s popular today or what’s popular tomorrow, but it’s what I think is right, and that’s the job I’ve been tasked with — doing what I think is right. For me, that’s reading law and figuring out what I think the law says,” she continued. “I’ve been doing it a long time, and I really feel confident that I’m the same person now as I was when I went into this in 2002.”
“I don’t have a goal to see my name in lights. I’m comfortable with who I am and am much more proud of the process I use to decide a case and doing what I think is right much more than if the outcome of a particular decision makes waves.”
Ransom said she keeps work life and social life separate. In fact, some people were not even aware that she was a judge until they read about her Court of Appeals Eastern District appointment in a St. Louis newspaper.
Ransom’s strict constructionist interpretations shine through in many of her opinions, including one case in which she affirmed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Six Flags over a minor who said she experienced sexual harassment when she was an employee. A mother, Ransom said she was “angry” by the behavior of the male non-supervisory coworkers who were ultimately fired and would have discussed the incidents with the supervisors herself.
But not everything “warrants a payday,” Ransom said. The two male employees, who were also minors, were fired just days after their “inappropriate behavior,” and the female employee remained in her job despite superiors giving her the option to move to a different ride at the park. Ransom’s opinion, from July 2020, said the minor failed to establish two key points in her claim of sex discrimination: that Six Flags employees knew or should have known about the harassment prior to it being reported and that the conduct affected a condition, privilege, or term of her employment at Six Flags.
The opinion also cited multiple Eighth Circuit Court decisions which detailed if an incident would rise to the level of an objectionably hostile work environment.
Another opinion dealt with the fallout of a traffic accident. Then, a man who had been rear-ended alleged juror misconduct after it awarded him $1 in damages, and it was revealed two jurors had said they did not believe in awarding compensation in trials like this one. In Ransom’s opinion, she said she did not find the jurors’ decision to award just $1 in damages was “evidence of bias or passion, rather than an assessment of the strength of [the appellant’s] evidence supporting his claims.”
“I don’t think it’s incumbent on me to second guess what those people in that room decided,” Ransom said “They gave $1 for a reason.”
When asked how she feels that a judge can maintain a strict constructionist judicial temperament over time, Ransom responded:
“Appellate work is simple and difficult all at once. As the lawyer, you have to know what are you telling me went wrong. When you get to me, whatever you’re telling me what you think went wrong, that’s what you have to stand on. We don’t get to redo a trial; we don’t get to say trial court just screwed everything up. What specifically and whatever you say, you’re sort of stuck with that. Sometimes people want us to look at was a decision fair or just the emotional piece and that’s not what appellate work is. We read the dry transcript; we weren’t at trial. I might have done things a totally different way than what this judge did. It’s not about emotion — that’s over there and the job is over here. There are things you can be compassionate about; there are things you can be angry about. But does that make the outcome of that case wrong? Not necessarily. And I think people have problems — litigants or attorneys — when they get opinions that affirm, affirm, affirm. Most things, from what I’ve seen, don’t rise to the level of a redo of the trial court. It’s very simple things that we look for. I think it’s difficult for people to understand we’re not looking at things with passion and emotion. It’s what happened in the trial court and whether it was right or not that’s it.”
Ransom also discussed the controversial hearings after the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. After his nomination, Kavanaugh was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexual misconduct when he was a teenager. The U.S. Senate narrowly voted to confirm Kavanaugh’s nomination to the high court in October 2018 — a vote Ransom said she would have supported.
“He didn’t commit a crime. It was potential bad behavior versus criminal conduct and looking at his legal prowess and whether or not he could do the job,” Ransom said. “I probably would have still voted to confirm, just looking at what I heard in those hearings. You may not like him, but I’m not sure I would have been the one to keep him off the [U.S.] Supreme Court.”
Ransom described her conversation with Parson prior to his selection of her as an appellate court judge as more of a personal one. The pair discussed their upbringings, families, and who they were as people — not caselaw.
She is Parson’s first appointment to the Supreme Court of Missouri. As Supreme Court judges must retire at age 70, there will be two more selections during his term.