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Robert Benham

ATLANTA — The first African-American to serve on the Georgia Supreme Court announced his retirement this week.

Justice Robert Benham will leave the court on March 1, before his latest six-year term expires at the end of next year. His early departure means Gov. Brian Kemp will appoint his replacement.

“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.”

While Kemp’s appointee to Benham’s spot on the court will enjoy the advantage of incumbency next November, the race for the seat is expected to draw other candidates.

Benham was appointed to the high court in 1989 by then-Gov. Joe Frank Harris. He subsequently won election to the bench six times.

Benham served as chief justice for six of those years, from 1995 until 2001.

Before serving on the Supreme Court, he spent five years on the state Court of Appeals.

The native of Cartersville 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.

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