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Two Black women with the chance to break barriers in North Carolina and the son of a former governor are President Joe Biden’s picks to serve as the top federal prosecutors in the state.
Biden announced his nominations for North Carolina’s three U.S. attorney positions Tuesday, nearly seven months after the resignation of President Donald Trump’s appointees at Biden’s request. The three North Carolina nominations were among nine made by Biden on Tuesday.
He tapped Dena King for the Western District, Sandra Hairston for the Middle District and Michael Easley Jr. for the Eastern District.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, King — a graduate of South Meckenburg High School — would be the first Black person or person of color to be the top official in the Western District, which includes Charlotte and 32 counties.
“She will be someone who would bring fairness and skill and sensitivity to that position,” Charlotte attorney James Ferguson, one of the state’s most prominent civil rights lawyers, told The Charlotte Observer earlier this year.
“A sensitivity to what it means to be an African American in this society, a sensitivity to the fact that the picture we have of African Americans going through the criminal justice system is not a pretty one. A sensitivity not just on who to prosecute but in trying to understand how they got where they are, and what are their prospects to become productive citizens.”
Hairston, who has been the acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District since March 1, would be the first Black woman in the job if confirmed. The Middle District serves Greensboro and 24 counties in the middle of the state, including Durham, Orange and Chatham.
Easley Jr., the son of former Democratic governor Mike Easley, is a partner at the McGuire Woods law firm, where he’s been since 2010. The Middle District includes Raleigh and stretches to the coast, covering 44 counties. Easley’s father was governor for two terms from 2001 to 2009.
“These individuals were chosen for their devotion to enforcing the law, their professionalism, their experience and credentials in this field, their dedication to pursuing equal justice for all, and their commitment to the independence of the Department of Justice,” the White House said in a statement announcing the nine new nominations.
U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republicans, met with all three nominees as part of their interview process and support the choices, Tillis’ office confirmed, easing the way for confirmation in the divided Senate. All three were among candidates included in a letter sent from the senators to the White House.
King and Hairston are both graduates of North Carolina Central law school and both have worked as assistant district attorneys in North Carolina, a traditional prior job for many U.S. Attorneys. Biden pledged as a candidate to appoint more diverse officials throughout government, including in his Cabinet and the federal judiciary.
“Personnel are policy. The decisions made by U.S. Attorneys on whether to handle cases have an enormous impact on local communities. And who fills those seats matters greatly,” Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor who heads the California-based legal-reform nonprofit, Fair and Just Prosecution, told The Charlotte Observer earlier this year.
“... Justice would be better served by bringing in a fresh perspective. People of color are also disproportionately impacted ... yet have too long not had a seat at the table in many states, including North Carolina. It’s time to do better.”
Biden asked for the resignations of nearly all Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys shortly after taking office, leading to the departure of North Carolina’s three U.S. attorneys — Robert Higdon (Eastern District), Matthew G.T. Martin (Middle District) and Andrew Murray (Western District).
There are 93 U.S. attorneys in the Justice Department. Biden has announced nominees for 25 of the posts. His first set of picks was marked by firsts in gender and race.
Dena J. King
Nominated for: U.S. attorney for Western District of North Carolina
Current job: Assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of North Carolina (since 2020)
Previous jobs: Special assistant U.S. attorney and assistant U..S. attorney in the Eastern District of North Carolina (2014-20); enforcement attorney in the Securities Division at NC Department of Secretary of State (2009-14); assistant district attorney at the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office (2006-08)
Education: N.C. State (2003), N.C. Central University School of Law (2006)
Sandra J. Hairston
Nominated for: U.S. attorney for Middle District of North Carolina
Current job: Acting U.S. attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina (since March 1, 2021)
Previous jobs: First assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District (2014-21); assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District (1990-94; 1996-2014); chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District (1994-96); special assistant district attorney in Guilford County (1989-90); assistant district attorney in Columbus County (1987-90)
Education: UNC-Charlotte (1981); N.C. Central School of Law (1987)
Michael F. Easley, Jr.
Nominated for: U.S. attorney for Eastern District of North Carolina
Current job: Litigation partner at McGuire Woods (2010)
Education: UNC-Chapel Hill (2007); UNC School of Law (2010)