Justice on Missouri’s highest court schedules retirement

Missouri Supreme Court Justice Laura Denvir Stith announced on February 2, 2021, that she would retire from the court effective March 8. Stith stated she planned to do pro bono work following her retirement from the court.

Justice Stith joined the Missouri Supreme Court in 2001. She was appointed to the court by Governor Bob Holden (D). Stith was retained by voters in 2002, and again in 2014 for a term that would have expired on December 31, 2026.

Stith’s replacement will be Governor Mike Parson’s (R) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. Before Stith’s retirement, a Democratic governor appointed four justices on the court and a Republican governor appointed three justices. After Gov. Parson appoints Stith’s replacement, the composition of the court will flip to four justices appointed by a Republican governor and three appointed by a Democratic governor.

Before serving on the state supreme court, Stith served as a judge with the Missouri Court of Appeals from 1994 to 2001. She worked as a private practice attorney from 1980 to 1994. Stith worked as a law clerk for Robert E. Seiler with the Missouri Supreme Court from 1978 to 1979.

Stith earned a B.A. in political science and social psychology from Tufts University in 1975 and her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1978.

The Missouri Appellate Judicial Commission selects supreme court judges according to the Missouri Plan. When a seat on the court becomes vacant, the commission submits three names to the governor to determine the replacement. After one year on the court, an appointed judge must run in the next general election to retain the seat. After their first retention election, supreme court justices serve 12-year terms and must win their retention elections to remain on the court.

The current chief justice of the court is George Draper, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D) in 2012.

The remaining five active justices of the court are:

Zel Fischer – Appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt (R) in 2008

Paul C. Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon (D) in 2012

Mary Rhodes Russell – Appointed by Gov. Bob Holden (D) in 2004

Patricia Breckenridge – Appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt (R) in 2007

Wesley Brent Powell – Appointed by Gov. Eric Greitens (R) in 2017

As of February 5, 2021, there are seven supreme court vacancies in six of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

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