President Bush eyes Benton for federal appeals court seat
By Bob Baysinger
January 20, 2004
JEFFERSON CITY – Duane Benton, who served as a parliamentarian at the 2003 Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) annual meeting, is being considered for a vacancy on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.
The Pathway has learned that President Bush has selected Benton as a nominee, which requires an extensive background check by the FBI.
If nominated and confirmed, Benton would become the second Southern Baptist on the 8th District bench. Already serving on the 8th District bench is Judge R. Smith Lavenski, an ordained Baptist minister in Little Rock, Ark.
Judge Duane Benton is the only certified public accountant serving on any supreme court in the United States. A native Missourian, Judge Benton earned his law degree from Yale Law School, where he was elected managing editor of the Yale Law Journal. A Vietnam veteran, he holds a masters degree in business administration, served as chief of staff to a Missouri congressman, worked in private law practice, and served as state revenue director. Judge Benton was appointed to the Missouri Supreme Court in 1991.
Presidential nominations to fill vacancies on federal courts must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Liberal political activists have opposed Bush nominees, including the nomination of Judge Miguel Estrada.
Benton, 53, has been serving on the Missouri Supreme Court since 1991. Appointed by former Gov. John Ashcroft in 1991, Benton is the longest-serving current member of the state’s high court. He served as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court from July 1997 through June 1999.
Benton told The Pathway he could not comment on a possible nomination.
The 11-member 8th Circuit has two vacancies. Cases are appealed to the 8th Circuit from district courts in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota. The 8th Circuit is one court level below the United States Supreme Court.
Legal observers described Benton as a lively questioner on the bench but say he does not fit into the judicial activist category. Activist judges attempt to make laws with their rulings. The non-activist judge limits themselves to interpreting the law.
Benton has long been involved in Missouri Baptist life.
Many Missouri Baptists remember Benton as the attorney who represented the convention during the 1980s when the MBC challenged horse racing, the lottery and other forms of legalized gambling in the state.
He is a former counsel to the MBC and has served as parliamentarian at several of the MBC’s annual meetings. He has written and published a series of Sunday School lessons and frequently speaks to churches and conferences throughout Missouri.
Benton is a deacon and trustee at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City.