The first-ever African-American to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court, Robert Benham, announced he will step down and retire from the bench this week. Benham’s retirement will be effective March 1, 2020. Benham was appointed to the high court in 1989 by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He subsequently won election to the bench six straight times. Benham was also chief justice for six of those years, from 1995 until 2001.

The Cartersville, Ga. native graduated from Tuskegee University in Alabama in 1963 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and went on the earn a law degree at the University of Georgia. Following law school, Benham served in the U.S. Army Reserve, attaining the rank of captain.

“This has been a difficult decision,” Benham said. “I have enjoyed every day of service to the people of Georgia, but after 34 years on the bench, it is time for me to step down. Once I was at peace with this decision, I wanted to let people know as soon as possible, especially those who were hoping to run in an open election. Furthermore, it is my hope that the timing of my retirement will cause minimal disruption to the court.”

However, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp can name someone to Benham’s seat in an interim basis.

“Justice Benham is a trailblazer, freedom fighter, and fiercely compassionate soul who has always led by example and personified integrity,” Kemp said. “The profession of law and Georgia’s Judiciary are immeasurably better because of Robert Benham. Neither will be the same once he leaves the bench. The Kemp family thanks Justice Benham for his courage, tenacity, and friendship, and we wish him the very best in his retirement.”

With Benham’s seat now open, four candidates have emerged as contenders in the May 2020 election . U.S. Rep. John Barrow, a Democrat; ex-state Rep. Beth Beskin, a Republican; and Appeals Court Judge Sara Doyle. One African-American contender, Alcovy Circuit Superior Court Judge Horace Johnson, announced his candidacy in October (the Alcovy circuit covers Walton and Newton counties).

“Justice Benham has certainly earned the right to conclude his illustrious legal career in the way he deems most appropriate,” Johnson said. “I thank him for mentoring me over the last thirty (30) plus years as a lawyer and judge. It remains my goal to succeed him.”

The election will commence May 2020.

In a July 16, 2007 file photo, Supreme Court of Georgia Justice Robert Benham presides over a hearing, in Atlanta. Justice who became the first African American to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court, plans to step down in 2020 after serving three decades on the high court., (AP Photo/Zachary D. Porter, Pool, File)

Itoro Umontuen currently serves as Managing Editor of The Atlanta Voice. Upon his arrival to the historic publication, he served as their Director of Photography. As a mixed-media journalist, Umontuen...

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