In a statement, Benham said he has enjoyed his 34 years as an appellate court judge and called his decision to step down in March a difficult one.
“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,” he said. “Furthermore, it is my hope that the timing of my retirement will cause minimal disruption to the court.”
Benham’s storied legal career began when he became the second African American to graduate from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1970. After practicing as a lawyer in Cartersville, Benham was put on the state Court of Appeals in 1984 and months later won a contested race for the seat, becoming the first African American to win a statewide election in Georgia.
In 1989, Gov. Joe Frank Harris appointed Benham to the Supreme Court bench. He served as its chief justice from 1995-2001.
In a statement, Kemp thanked Benham for his “courage, tenacity and friendship” and wished him the best in his retirement.
"Justice Benham is a trailblazer, freedom fighter and fiercely compassionate soul who has always led by example and personified integrity," Kemp said. "The profession of law and Georgia's judiciary are immeasurably better because of Robert Benham. Neither will be the same once he leaves the bench.”