South Carolina state court judge DeAndrea Gist Benjamin was confirmed in bipartisan fashion to the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
The Senate voted 53-44 on Thursday to confirm Benjamin, who will be the second woman of color to serve on the Richmond, Va.-based court. She’s the first of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees to be confirmed in the new Congress.
Benjamin, who was born in 1972 in Columbia, South Carolina, graduated from Winthrop University and the University of South Carolina School of Law. She has spent her entire legal career in the state, including as a prosecutor and an assistant attorney general.
Prior to becoming a judge, Benjamin practiced law with her father, Donald Gist, at what she described as a “small general practice firm” in Columbia in her answers to the Senate Judiciary Questionnaire.
“Being able to work hand in hand and try cases with my father has had a great impact on my career,” Benjamin said in a 2012 interview with the South Carolina Defense Trial Attorneys’ Association.
She served as a part-time municipal court judge in Columbia beginning in 2004 and then as a trial court judge in South Carolina’s Fifth Judicial Circuit since 2011. In that role, she has presided over 300 trials, of which 60% involved criminal proceedings, she said in answers to the Senate Judiciary Questionnaire.
She has sat by designation on the South Carolina Supreme Court in at least two different criminal cases, which she included as among the most significant ones she’s presided over.
“She’s compassionate but not at the expense of being fair,” said Assatta Williams, a Benjamin clerk between 2020 and 2021 and an associate at Burr & Forman, of her time working for the judge. “She makes very intentional decisions and really does take the time to weigh everything.”
Republicans at Benjamin’s confirmation hearing in November criticized her over past criminal cases while a judge in South Carolina. For example, they focused on a murder case in which she initially denied bond for the defendant but granted it roughly two years later when he was asking for a speedy trial. At that time, she said the state violated the court’s order to try his case and there were issues with discovery.
Despite GOP criticism, Benjamin received the support of both home-state senators, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C), for confirmation. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also voted to confirm Benjamin.
Benjamin said she was first contacted by the office of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) and asked to forward her resume in January 2022, she said in her committee questionnaire. She was subsequently contacted by the White House about the Fourth Circuit seat a few months later and Biden announced plans to nominate her in August 2022.
Benjamin’s husband, Steve Benjamin, served as the first Black mayor of Columbia between 2010 and 2022, and previously ran unsuccessfully for attorney general of South Carolina. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo appointed him to chair the First Responder Network Authority.
In introductory confirmation hearing remarks, Clyburn said he had known Benjamin “her entire life” and her family had “all been fixtures in South Carolina’s capital city for many years.”
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