Georgia Supreme Court justice announces retirement, impacts May 2020 election

On December 5, 2019, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham announced his plans to retire on March 1, 2020.
Benham became an associate justice of the nine-member Georgia Supreme Court in 1989. He was appointed to the court in December of that year by Governor Joe Frank Harris (D). Benham served as chief justice of the court from 1995 until 2001. Benham previously served on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 1984 to 1989; Gov. Harris appointed Benham to that court in April 1984.
Benham earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Tuskegee University in 1967. He earned his J.D. from the University of Georgia’s Lumpkin School of Law in 1970. In 1989, he earned his LL.M. from the University of Virginia. He also attended Harvard University. Benham joined the U. S. Army Reserve after law school. He left the service as a Captain.
Selection of state supreme court justices in Georgia occurs through nonpartisan election of judges; however, the governor appoints judges with the help of a nomination commission in the event of a midterm vacancy. Benham’s replacement will be Governor Brian Kemp’s (R) first nominee to the nine-member supreme court. Judges serve six-year terms.
The Georgia Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state. It currently includes the following justices:
• Justice Keith Blackwell – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• Robert Benham – appointed by Gov. Joe Frank Harris (D)
• Michael P. Boggs – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• David Nahmias – appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R)
• Harold Melton – appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R)
• Nels Peterson – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• Sarah Warren – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• Charlie Bethel – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• John Ellington – Elected
In 2020, there will be two state supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. One vacancy occurred in a state where a Republican governor appoints the replacement with the help of a nomination commission, and the other occurred in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement with the help of a nomination commission.
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Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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