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Baptist layman confirmed by Senate to serve on appeals court

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Duane Benton, a Southern Baptist layman who has been serving on the Missouri Supreme Court since 1991, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate June 24 for a seat on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis.

Benton learned about the confirmation as he was headed to attend his son’s baseball game in Jefferson City, Mo. He said he expects to submit his resignation from the state Supreme Court “in the next few weeks.”

“The 8th Circuit begins its full caseload in September,” Benton said. “I have talked to the chief judge in the 8th Circuit and he is adamant that I get there as quickly as possible. Nobody has requested that I stay on the Missouri Supreme Court through the end of the year.”

Benton said he has many to thank for the important federal judgeship.

“First, I give thanks to God, President Bush and the Senate,” Benton told The Pathway, the newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention. “Several times during the confirmation process, I felt just like Moses while Joshua was on the field in Exodus 17. When they held Moses’ arms up, Joshua would go back to winning the battle.

“Being confirmed as a federal judge is a tiring process, a stressful process. Many times I could identify with those trying to hold up Moses’ arms up in Exodus 17. That is why I appreciate all the prayers of Missouri Baptists throughout this whole procedure.

“I have so many churches, so many ministers, so many people who have been so gracious, so kind. There has been constant prayer by so many.”

Benton is a long-time Sunday School teacher at his home church, First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Mo. He has long displayed a Bible on a table in the entryway to his office in Jefferson City.

John Holstein, a Southern Baptist who formerly served on the Missouri Supreme Court with Benton, described the new federal judge as “straightforward, honest with a brilliant mind.”

“He told you exactly what he thought, but he did it in a kind way,” Holstein said. “He would always try to resolve differences in a kind way.”

Benton was appointed by former Gov. John Ashcroft to serve on the Missouri Supreme Court. Benton said there is “no doubt” that Ashcroft’s role as U.S. Attorney General had a “positive” impact on his confirmation.

The 11-member 8th Circuit is one court level below the U.S. Supreme Court. Cases are appealed to the 8th Circuit from district courts in Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Benton said he will keep his pledge not to be an activist judge.

“I will try in every case to be fair and follow the law. I believe a judge should follow the law and our Constitution,” he said. “The law is passed by Congress and legislators.”

Many of President Bush’s judicial nominees have waited for many months to be confirmed by the Senate. Some of the nominees have withdrawn their names from consideration because of Senate Democratic opposition.

Benton, a conservative Republican, attributes his relatively quick confirmation to the “power of prayer.”

“There were hundreds of churches praying for me,” Benton said, “and many friends stuck up for me during this process.”

Benton, who is also a deacon and trustee at his home church, was born in Springfield and while growing up lived in Mountain View, Willow Springs and Cape Girardeau. He is a 1972 graduate of Northwestern University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

He earned his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law and also received an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Central Missouri State University.

Benton said he will maintain his home in Jefferson City.
Bob Baysinger is managing editor of The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

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