Benton nomination attract no foes at Senate hearing
By Bob Baysinger
April 13, 2004
|Missouri Supreme Court Justice Duane Benton visits with U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, April 7 in the senator’s Washington office. Photo courtesy of Sen. Jim Talent|
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee completed confirmation hearings April 8 for President Bush’s nomination of Missouri Supreme Court Justice Duane Benton to fill a vacancy on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Based in St. Louis, the 8th Circuit is one of 12 across the nation. The 12 courts of appeals are the final stop for legal cases before they are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court. The 8th Circuit includes Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Benton, a Missouri Baptist who has served as a member of the Missouri Supreme Court since 1991, appeared before the Senate committee on April 8 after getting a “well qualified" rating by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Federal Judiciary.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s vote is expected April 19. It is not known when the full Senate will vote.
Benton’s nomination and pending confirmation represents the first Missouri Baptist appointed to the federal bench in recent history. Benton told The Pathway that he planned to “work hard to be a good federal judge" after learning about his nomination by Bush. Benton has declines further comment until after his expected confirmation.
Benton served on the Missouri Supreme Court with another Missouri Baptist, John Holstein of Springfield. Holstein is now engaged in a private law practice in Springfield and is a member of Second Baptist Church, Springfield.
“Duane was straightforward, honest and he had a brilliant mind," Holstein said. “He told you exactly what he thought, but he did it in a kind way. He would always try to resolve differences in a kind way."
As a Missouri judge, Benton did not hide his faith.
A long-time Sunday School teacher at his home church – First Baptist Church of Jefferson City – Benton displayed a Bible on a table in the entryway to his office in Jefferson City. During work breaks he was often seen reading a Bible he carried in his briefcase.
Holstein said others on the Missouri court learned to listen to Benton because of his sharp mind.
“He was smart enough that when he spoke everybody listened," Holstein said.
Holstein said other judges often kidded Benton about previous employment.
“One of the things often said about the Missouri Supreme Court was that it was the court of death and taxes," Holstein said. “All appeals of death penalties came to the court and all appeals of the interpretation of law dealing with tax cases also came to the court.
“Duane served as the director of revenue in Missouri before being appointed to the Supreme Court. He was very knowledgeable in tax law, but I always joked with him by keeping one hand on my billfold when he started talking about taxes."
Holstein said he can’t think of anybody who will do a better job as a federal judge than Benton.
“Duane is a good person," Holstein said. “He has a good mind, and he is a godly man."
Benton was born in Springfield and grew up in Mountain View, Willow Springs and Cape Girardeau. He is a 1972 graduate of Northwestern University, where he was graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. He received his law degree from Yale in 1975.
Rodney Albert, pastor of Hallsville Baptist Church and chairman of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Christian Life Commission, said it is a delight to have a judge of Benton’s caliber appointed to the 8th Circuit.
“Christians in places of preeminence are a key to a restoration of Christian principles," Albert said. “Judge Benton will help bring some constitutional sanity to a judicial system that is so lacking in this area."
Court observers describe Benton as a lively questioner during court proceedings. They add, however, that he does not fit into the judicial activist category. The activist judges attempt to make laws with their rulings. Non-activist judges limit their work to interpreting the law.
“In this age of judicial activists, having someone who understands the intent of the Constitution is absolutely essential for true justice to occur in this country," Albert said. “And the Baptist perspective is a good one to have in the area of constitutional interpretation.
“No doubt, Judge Benton will serve both Baptists and all Americans in an exquisite manner."
David Clippard, MBC executive director, said he had not been back in Missouri long enough become well acquainted with Benton.
“But from what I know," Clippard said, “he teaches a Sunday School class. We need a man with that kind of character. There is a need for wise judges and judges who understand the law. With Judge Benton understanding the source of all law and the source of all truth, I feel confident this will impact how he conducts himself as a judge."
Monte Shinkle, pastor of Concord Baptist Church and immediate past president of the MBC, said he became acquainted with Benton shortly after moving to Jefferson City.
“Our church and many other churches were asked to pray for his son who nearly drowned in a swimming pool incident," Shinkle said. “From that time until now, I’ve had opportunities to sit down and talk with Judge Benton. I believe he is a genuine man, and all Missouri Baptists ought to be proud to have one of ours be nominated as a federal judge."