The nomination of South Carolina Judge DeAndrea Benjamin to a prestigious judgeship on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals was advanced Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Benjamin cleared the major hurdle after a vote of 13-9, with most Republicans voting against.
South Carolina’s senior U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, and a Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, was not at the meeting but voted by proxy in Benjamin’s favor.
Her nomination now goes to the full U.S. Senate for consideration.
“It’s clear she (Benjamin) will confirmed by the full Senate, the only question is when,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond School of Law and an expert on the federal judiciary.
President Joe Biden announced Benjamin’s nomination to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in August.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals is one of the nation’s 13 appellate courts, and is one step below the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Court justices usually are chosen from the nation’s appellate courts.
The 4th Circuit Court, headquartered in Richmond, and hears appeals from federal trial courts in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and West Virginia.
Benjamin would be the third South Carolina judge on the 4th Circuit, along with Jay Richardson and Marvin Quattlebaum. Her confirmation would help Biden fulfill his public pledge as a candidate in 2020 to put more women and people of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds on the federal bench.
Benjamin, 50, who did not appear in person before the committee Thursday, is the wife of former Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, a Democrat.
Benjamin became a 5th Judicial Circuit state judge in 2011 after serving as a Columbia city judge for seven years. She oversees civil and criminal trials in Kershaw and Richland counties.
She is a 1997 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he voted against Benjamin, citing some court decisions she had made granting bond to criminal defendants that he said “raise public safety concerns.”
“Judge Benjamin hasn’t convinced me she’ll be following the constitutional laws as written,” Grassley said.
In November, when Benjamin was first screened, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois,, defended Benjamin.
He said that of the thousands of cases Benjamin said she’s handled in her more than 18-year career as both a city judge and then a state judge, only 59 of her decisions had been appealed, and about 10 to 11 decisions of hers had been reversed.
That would put Benjamin, Durbin said, in the “99.9% category of getting it right.”
“I take seriously the oath that I have taken to uphold and protect the Constitution of my state and the United States of America,” Benjamin said then.