A young 44 years old when first nominated by President Bill Clinton to sit on the federal bench, a former Missouri judge may finally get his seat — 17 years later.
That’s a long time to wait for a job.
Ronnie White, a former Missouri Supreme Court judge who still practices law, was first nominated for a U.S. District Court seat in his home state by President Bill Clinton in 1997, and the Republican-controlled Senate voted him down in 1999 along party lines. The African-American nominee was criticized by Republicans as being soft on criminals, and some of his supporters charged that his race played a part in his rejection by the Senate.
The friction over the treatment of White has been simmering ever since.
In 2001, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on then-Sen. John Ashcroft’s nomination to be President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Democrats grilled him about the treatment of White.
“I’ve said this to the press and I’ve said it to you personally: I think what happened to Judge Ronnie White in the United States Senate was disgraceful,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, according to a CNN transcript.
White also testified at a hearing about Ashcroft’s nomination, where he said he was using the moment to reclaim his reputation.
President Obama renominated White for the job in November. (Sarah Binder of The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage wrote a great history explainer then.) At White’s confirmation hearing in May, Durbin said, “It’s not often that the Senate gets a do-over. In your case, it’s long overdue,” according to a Congressional Quarterly article. The Senate Judiciary Committee passed him out of committee on June 19 with a party line 10-to-8 vote.
On Monday evening, Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on White’s nomination with a vote expected this week. Because of the “nuclear option” rule change that requires only 51 votes to stop debate and move to confirm him, it looks as if — almost two decades later — White is on his way to the federal bench.