Having lost a bitter battle to join the South Carolina Court of Appeals last year, Judge DeAndrea Benjamin has now been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Born DeAndrea Gist in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1972, Benjamin received a B.A. from Winthrop University in 1994 and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1997. After graduating, Benjamin clerked for Judge L. Casey Manning on the Fifth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina. She then spent two years at the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office and another two years at the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office before opening her own practice in 2001.
While practicing, Benjamin also worked part-time as a Columbia city judge and on the Juvenile Parole Board. In 2010, Benjamin narrowly lost an election in the South Carolina legislature to become a family court judge to Gwendolyn Young Smalls. See Small Bests Benjamin for Family Court Judge, S.C. Politics Today, Feb. 3, 2010. In 2011, Benjamin was appointed to be a Circuit Judge on the Fifth Judicial Circuit in a unanimous vote. See Wife of Columbia Mayor Elected Judge, A.P. State & Local Wire, Feb. 3, 2011.
Benjamin’s husband, Steve Benjamin is a prominent South Carolina Democrat who lost a race for Attorney General to (now Governor) Henry McMaster in 2002 and served as Mayor of Columbia from 2010 to 2022. In 2010, during the mayoral election, the Benjamins were criticized for listing two primary residences of their tax forms, which they explained was because they moved. See Tax Wars Dominate Capital City Mayoral Race, FITSNews For You, Apr. 17, 2010.
In 2013, Benjamin’s brother Donald Gist Jr. was tragically shot and killed in Charlotte, N.C. See SC Mayor’s Brother-in-Law Killed in Charlotte, A.P. Online, Dec. 7, 2013.
In 2021, Benjamin was up for a seat on the South Carolina Court of Appeals but lost after opposition from conservatives critical of her husband. See Judge and Columbia Mayor’s Wife Loses Partisan Judicial Race, A.P. State & Local, Feb. 3, 2021. The legislature selected Judge Jay Vinson instead.
History of the Seat
Benjamin has been nominated to replace U.S. Circuit Henry Floyd, who moved to senior status on December 31, 2021. Benjamin was recommended for the vacancy by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, who is close to the Biden Administration.
Benjamin has held a variety of positions throughout her legal career. She started her career at the Fifth Judicial Circuit Solicitor’s Office, where she handled criminal prosecutions in Richland and Kershaw counties. Subsequently, at the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, she continued criminal prosecutions, including the sexual assault prosecution of York County Sheriff’s Deputy Tommy Benfield Sr. See Former Sheriff’s Deputy Indicted on Sex Charges, A.P. State & Local Wire, Sept. 23, 2000.
From 2001 to 2011, Benjamin worked as a solo practitioner in Columbia. Among the cases she handled during this time, Benjamin represented James McKinney, a teacher who sued an investigator with Richland County for arresting him on warrants not supported by probable cause. See McKinney v. Richland Cnty. Sheriff’s Dep’t, 431 F.3d 415 (4th Cir. 2005). After Judge Margaret Seymour denied summary judgment for the defendants, the Fourth Circuit reversed, finding that the defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. See id. at 419.
Benjamin also handled a number of employment discrimination suits, including that of Ada Irene Dawson, an African-American FBI agent who sued for racial discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation. See Dawson v. United States, 549 F. Supp. 2d 736 (D.S.C. 2008). Benjamin also represented Beverly Mahomes who sued the U.S. Postal Service for racial discrimination after her termination. See Mahomes v. Potter, 590 F. Supp. 2d 775 (D.S.C. 2008).
Benjamin has served as a South Carolina Circuit Court judge since her election in 2011. In this role, she serves as a trial judge handling both civil and criminal matters for the counties of Richland and Kershaw.
Among her criminal cases, Benjamin has shown a willingness to hand out harsh sentences. For example, she sentenced Brett Parker to two terms of life in prison after he was convicted of killing his wife and his business partner. See Judge Sentences Columbia Man to 2 Life Terms, A.P. State & Local Wire, May 29, 2013. She also sentenced Christopher Harmon to 20 years in prison for kidnapping and sexual assault. See North August Man Sentenced to 20 Years for 2017 Kidnapping, Sexual Assault Case, Aiken Standard, Dec. 19, 2019.
On the civil side, Benjamin dismissed a suit challenging South Carolina’s ban on online eye exams, finding the company had failed to plead an injury sufficient to give them standing to challenge the law. See Judge Dismisses Case Challenging Online Eye Exam Ban, Columbia Regional Business Report, Jan. 30, 2018. The South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the requirements for standing had been met. See Opternative, Inc. v. S.C. Bd. of Med. Examiners, 859 S.E.2d 263 (S.C. App. 2021).
Benjamin also sat by designation on the South Carolina Supreme Court. See, e.g., Burch v. Burch, 717 S.E.2d 757 (S.C. 2011).
During her time on the circuit court bench, some of Benjamin’s decisions were appealed to the South Carolina Court of Appeals and the South Carolina Supreme Court. The majority of these decisions were affirmed. See, e.g., State v. Brown, 740 S.E.2d 493 (S.C. 2013) (affirming jury instructions given in larceny conviction). Some of the decisions that were reversed are highlighted below:
Lee v. Univ. of S.C. (757 S.E.2d 394 (S.C. 2014)) – The plaintiff contracted with the University to give him an opportunity to purchase football and basketball tickets throughout his lifetime in consideration for taking out a life insurance policy with the University as a beneficiary. The University subsequently began imposing seat license fees on all purchases, which the plaintiff challenged as a breach of contract. Benjamin ruled that the plaintiff was not being denied his contractual right of purchase by imposing the licensing fees. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed 4-1, finding that the payment of the licensing fee constituted an additional condition the University attempted to impose on a contract that did not require it. Justice Costa Pleicones would have affirmed.
Sanders v. State (773 S.E.2d 580 (S.C. 2015)) – The Defendant in the case agreed to waive all collateral review of any conviction in exchange for the state agreeing not to seek the death penalty. When the Defendant subsequently attempted to collaterally challenge his conviction, Benjamin dismissed the challenge under the agreement. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, finding that Benjamin should have convened an evidentiary hearing to confirm if the Defendant’s attorney was constitutionally defective in advising him to consent to the agreement.
Lucero v. State (777 S.E.2d 409 (S.C. App. 2015)) – The Defendant challenged her conviction for drug trafficking collaterally after an immigration judge ordered her removed based on the conviction. Benjamin granted post-conviction relief based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Padilla v. Kentucky, which found that defense counsel needed to advise non-citizens of immigration consequences from their pleas. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that the Padilla decision could not be applied retroactively to the Defendant’s case.
State v. Stukes (787 S.E.2d 480 (S.C. 2016)) – The Defendant was convicted of rape after a trial in which the complainant claimed that she was assaulted while the Defendant argued that the intercourse was consensual. Benjamin advised the jury, consistent with the statute, that the complainant’s statement need not be corroborated to be believed. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed 3-2, finding that, while the instruction was an accurate statement of the law, it confused the jury in this instance and was impermissible. Justice Kittredge dissented, finding any error to be harmless.
State v. Herndon (845 S.E.2d 499 (S.C. 2020)) – The Defendant, after a conviction for voluntary manslaughter, challenged Benjamin’s refusal to give the jury a Logan charge, or an instruction advising them as to how they should consider circumstantial evidence, as opposed to direct evidence. The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed, finding that, as the state’s evidence was almost entirely circumstantial, the charge was required to be given.
Benjamin has had her share of judicial disappointment, including losing bids for the Family Court and the South Carolina Court of Appeals. While Benjamin may well draw opposition in her bid for the Fourth Circuit, her confirmation will largely be tied to what Sen. Lindsay Graham chooses to do. Graham, who has generally been one of the most friendly Republican senators to Biden nominees, could grease the path for his home-state nominee if he supports her. If Graham chooses to oppose Benjamin, however, it is unlikely that she would be confirmed.
I do have some personal knowledge on this one and I know that Lindsey and the Benjamin’s are friendly to one another and on very good terms. I would be be surprised if she doesn’t win Lindsey’s vote in committee and ultimately for confirmation.
Benjamin losing a seat on the South Carolina Court of Appeals may be a blessing in disguise if confirmed to the 4th circuit. This Jim Clyburn recommendation seems to be much more liberal than his other to Biden, J Childs. Still, her willingness to hand out tough sentences should help sway Graham in addition to his friendly relationship with her husband.
I think her SJC hearing will be the last nominees that have any chance at being confirmed this year. Hopefully there is a hearing November 9th & she can be confirmed by the end of the year. If the Democrats hold the senate, look for them to take their foot off the pedal & she’s more likely to be confined next year.
She seems to have a record that could win a few crossover votes. It’s hard to portray her as a wild-eyed radical.
What a career projection. She’s on the road to getting a position vastly more important than the ones she’s sought and failed to acquire.
Ever in the weeds, I’m curious to know how SC’s visiting judgeship works. Visiting judgeship on inferior federal courts is straightforward enough (28 U.S. Code § 292), but South Carolina seems to use it extensively.
J. Childs sat by designation on SCOSC and Benjamin has as well. Does anyone know if SCOSC has a chronic workload issue? I know that there are only 5 justices there, unlike the 7 that are on many other state supreme courts.
Do you really think that there will be a hearing on 11/9? I’m extremely doubtful (as always).
I’m hopeful there will be a SJC hearing 11/9 but more likely 11/16. The senate was originally scheduled to come back the day after the election but when they added the two weeks in October for their recess, the extended their return date to 11/14. I was hoping Durbin would have a hearing on 11/9, 11/16 & 11/30 to clear out all of the pending nominees needing a hearing but that looks unlikely now sadly.
I would guess 11/16 and 11/30 as well, with the 11/16 nominees getting committee votes on Dec 8. I agree with Dequan in that I’m not sure any 11/30 people will get committee votes in time.
In the prior article, you asked about a poll showing Chuck Grassley running poorly against a Democrat who’s been accused of sexual harassment. That same poll shows Governor Kim Reynolds leading by 17 points.
Grassley seems to be overstaying his welcome.
WOW… I don’t expect Grassley to lose but Obama did win Iowa twice. That would be a seismic shift if he did lose though. I would put that up there with with then-senate leader Tom Dachle losing to John Thune. There’s obviously no oath tie Republicans winning the senate with an Iowa loss so I expect dollars to start flowing into the state & Grassley’s lead to expand.
I wonder how long it will take to backfill J. Michelle Childs’ district court seat. My pick would be AUSA Johanna Valenzuela, who would be the first Latina judge from South Carolina. However, I tend to doubt someone born in 1984 will get nominated in a state with two GOP Senators. I think it’s more likely the nod will go to someone like Magistrate Judge Jacquelyn Austin (1967, only one year younger than Childs), and maybe Valenzuela would get a magistrate judgeship first. I might have a chance to meet Jaime Harrison on Friday, so I’ll try to mention this.
Very nice Ethan. Unfortunately the people we truly need to talk to in order to get that seat filled is either senators Graham & Scott or senator Durbin to get rid of blue slips. But wouldn’t hurt to tak to Jaime about it.
On another note, my next goal on the list is to add more possible nominees for states with two GOP Senators. I got started on that yesterday. The best options are personal injury attorneys, often progressive enough, but not so progressive that they can’t get blue slips.
Oh good good. I don’t know how you come up with so many great names but keep them coming. I enjoy your list.
Lindsay Graham might want to choose who gets nominated for that judgeship. He’s done favors for the Biden Administration with regard to judges already.
Mitch, I agree, I would be fine with nominating someone with input from Lindsey, even a center right, Stephen Lochner type.
one trick I use is to search websites using this technique.
it searches for any use of that term on said site.
Very nice. Well that’s a good trick & it works very well… Lol
With regard to the U.S. Attorney nominees from Texas, there is a crack in the deal. Ted Cruz accused the White House of snubbing Damien Diggs for the East Texas post. Cruz noted that Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson also strongly supports him. John Cornyn also complained about the White House’s performance, though he didn’t mention Diggs by name.
Dequan, what do you think about this?
Here is an article:
I hate to say these word but “I agree with senator Ted Cruz on this one”… Yuck, I may have to wash my mouth out with soap tonight… Lol
The White House hasn’t named anybody yet for the district, they just announced the other three districts. My guess is Damien Diggs will be the nominee. From what I’ve read about him this week, he may be a good pick in a blue state so he should be a sure thing in Texas.
Remember last year senator Schumer recommended three federal judges at the same time. Biden nominated two of them at once then the third, Nusrat Jahan Choudhury over a month later. It happens. The vetting process is not always an equal process when it comes ti how much time it takes to complete.
You may be right. I haven’t read any objections to Diggs by anyone.
I also figured that you’d be pleasantly surprised that Cornyn and Cruz would be working in good faith with The White House on Texas nominations. It could become a productive working relationship if the Biden Administration doesn’t overreach.
Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring from Congress this year. Who do you think will replace her as the Democratic point man/woman on nominations?
If I remember correctly, both Al Green & Henry Cuellar who both elected the same time the term after Johnson. If so, obviously I hope it’s the former as the latter is probably only slightly to the left of Cornyn & Cruz.
I just hope they are working together on the state’s judicial vacancies. No need to rush it this year since Cornyn & Cruz would have to approve no matter if it’s this year or next. I just hope there’s no Republicans in the deal. I’ll take just left or centrist over outright Republicans.
I think that’s too much to hope for. I think that is the tradition, that if Senators from the opposite party work in good faith with the White House and its supporters, they get to choose one out of fournominees in a large state. If I’m not mistaken, they get one of three in a small state.
Yup. Hopefully the Republican will be in the mold of John Murphy. He’s more than acceptable for the Toomey pick in Pennsylvania.
We have a statement from senator Wiker on the Colom nomination…
Seems noncommittal to me. I’d say that he won’t get both blue slips, as qualified as he seems to be.
I tend to agree with you as well. The exception may be a promise to allow blue lips for a Mississippi circuit court vacancy in the future. I would just hope the Dem have a net gain seat in the midterms & Durbin finally gets fed up & gets rid of blue slips once & for all.
On another note, apparently Judge Omar Williams of Connecticut is Latino. I thought he was Black…
@Dequan. I think Williams must be Afro-Latino. There are large swaths of Afro-Latino communities throughout the northeast.
Ah ok. So you kill two birds with one stone. Very nice & another reason why I wish he was the 2nd circuit nominee over Maria Khan in addition to being a decade & a half younger. Well he was actually my fourth choice after Cristina Rodriguez, Justin Driver & Jamal Greene.
unfortunately, I don’t think Jamal Greene will ever get a judicial position. He’s never practiced law (other then as a Summer Associate while still in law school), having gone straight to academia from his SCOTUS clerkship. Most law professors who get nominated as judges did practice law early in their career, even if only as an Associate.
Ah good point. Well definitely Justin Driver would have been a great choice. They mine as well left the seat in New York if we were getting a near 60 year old. At least she’s progressive
Adding to Ethan, Biden is generally not a fan of law professors as judicial nominees. The few nominees who have been law professors had either only done so for a short period of time (such as Desai) or have been the Solicitor General of their state (such as Heytens and Johnstone).
That is very true & one thing I hope changes dramatically should Dems hold the senate. I would love to see more current law professors as federal judges.
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I know we have rightfully spoken in depth about the diversity of Biden’s nominees. I wanted to make a list of all the White men Biden has nominated in order of my favorite to least favorite & why for each. Tell me what you all think;
1. P. Casey Pitts – Very young & a solid progressive.
2. Toby J. Heytens – Young & progressive.
3. Daniel Calabretta – Young, progressive & LGBT.
4. Gordon Gallagher – Seems to be very progressive for Western Colorado. His age is his only downfall, but the district court needed some geographical balance so he’s a good pick.
5. Michael S. Nachmanoff – Progressive but he is in his mid 50’s.
6. Todd E. Edelman – Very progressive. His age is a downfall, but I will give some deference since he was nominated by Obama & never given a vote. Also, there are many more progressive choices in the DC area that were much younger.
7. Leonard P. Stark – Very good pick for the federal circuit. He would have been much lower on the list if it was any other circuit court.
8. William Pocan – Progressive & LGBT. Unfortunately, he is simply too old in my opinion. However, if Ron Johnson is defeated, I would hope Mandella Barnes turns in his blue slip as he deserves to be confirmed after the way he has been treated the past 10 months.
9. John Frank Murphy – I was actually surprised he was senator Toomey’s pick. He would be much lower on the list for a blue state but for a purple state, he is a great pick if he’s the compromise Republican pick.
10. Robert S. Huie – He is part AAPI. There were far more progressive choices from San Diego.
11. Andrew G. Schopler – While he was a former federal defender, he returned to private practice less than a year later. As mentioned above, there were far more progressive choices from San Diego.
12. Stephen H. Locher – He is a decent pick for red state Iowa.
13. Robert S. Ballou – He is not only too old & does not have any progressive background whatsoever, but there were far younger & progressive choices from Virginia. If Juval Scott was not going to be picked, they should have requested additional names. Particularly for a court that has never had a non-White judge.
Hard to believe that out of 139 (not counting KBJ, Pan, or Merriam twice) nominees that only 13 have been white men. It’s one think to talk about diversity but Biden has taken this issue very, very seriously.
I thought the same thing. For any of the disagreements I have had for Biden nominees, he has been the best president ever when it comes to putting progressives on the judiciary when you compare it to how many conservatives & bad picks he has had. Before Biden I would have said FDR was the best but he put some conservatives on the bench as well. Carter could have an argument but he put some outright racist on the bench (Mostly because of the rules in his day that forced presidents to negotiate with racist senators at the time).
But Biden has done a phenomenal job. The most black woman on the circuit courts, the most federal defenders, over 20% Hispanic, the first two LGBT circuit court women, the most AAPI & much more. I really hope the Democrats can net a senate seat or two as I believe the next two years has a good chance of being as good or even better than the first two. Biden can really blunt the conservative damage Trump did to the courts with two more years of Democrat senate control.
I agree. Really, really hope we get to see that.
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