President Donald Trump on Tuesday nominated Dakota County District Judge Erica H. MacDonald to be the next U.S. attorney for Minnesota, elevating a former federal prosecutor for the important law enforcement post.
The Star Tribune first reported in February that MacDonald had emerged as the likely pick after a murky process saw multiple candidates rise and fall over the past year. The White House announced MacDonald's nomination as part of its 12th "wave" of U.S. attorney nominations.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, MacDonald would return to an office at which she spent eight years as a federal prosecutor; she also worked as a federal prosecutor in Illinois earlier in her career. MacDonald spent the last three years of her time with the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota helping lead efforts against human trafficking as a point of contact and co-chair of the Minnesota Human Trafficking Task Force — an area identified as a priority by the Justice Department and also highlighted Tuesday by Minnesota politicians reacting to MacDonald's nomination.
"Judge MacDonald is a dedicated public servant who is well-qualified to serve as Minnesota's next U.S. Attorney," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Judiciary Committee member, in a statement Tuesday. "I had a good meeting with her months ago and I told the Department of Justice and the Administration that she would be a good candidate for the job."
MacDonald, who was in court Tuesday, was not immediately available for comment.
The U.S. attorney's office has been led on an interim basis by Greg Brooker, former first assistant to Andrew Luger, who was among 46 Obama holdovers ordered by the White House to resign last March.
"Last year I vowed to not leave a long list of unfinished business for the next Presidentially appointed U.S. Attorney, and the career professionals in the office have had a very productive year prosecuting and litigating cases," Brooker said Tuesday. "In the last year, we also continued our outreach to the community and our law enforcement partners. We most certainly will be ready to welcome Ms. MacDonald to the office and look forward to her arrival soon."
A timeline for MacDonald's path to confirmation is unclear, but court-watchers estimate that the Senate Judiciary Committee takes between two and six months to vote on nominees before a full Senate confirmation vote typically follows a month later.
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed MacDonald, 51, to be a judge in Dakota County in 2010, and she was re-elected to the court in 2012.
Pawlenty, who recently announced another bid for governor, congratulated MacDonald in a tweet on Tuesday, writing: "Proud to have appointed her to the bench in 2009."
Rep. Erik Paulsen, Minnesota's senior Republican congressman, also offered praise for MacDonald on Tuesday, calling her "a widely respected jurist, an experienced federal prosecutor and a fine lawyer in both the public and private sectors."
"She's earned a reputation on the bench not just of fairness and impartiality, but of extensive knowledge of the law," Paulsen said. "Her trial experience, management skills, discretion and temperament will make her an outstanding U.S. attorney."
Scott County District Court Judge Christian Wilton, who worked closely alongside MacDonald as federal prosecutors in Minnesota, said MacDonald's recent turn as a judge will lend a different perspective from most other nominees.
As a prosecutor, Wilton said, MacDonald regularly tried cases on the Red Lake Indian Reservation, embedding herself in the community. MacDonald also helped lobby for a new advocacy center in northern Minnesota for child victims from surrounding reservations who would otherwise need to be escorted by the FBI to a center in St. Paul, Wilton said.
Wilton also predicted that MacDonald's experience as a drug court judge will prepare her for being tasked with leading the federal response to the ongoing drug crises in Minnesota.
"You contrast a tough prosecutor to someone who looks after victims …" Wilton said. "She is sympathetic to those people who are high-risk, high-need. … I think she brings toughness, I think she brings compassion, and she brings a whole wealth of experience that one needs to be a great United States attorney."
MacDonald, who previously applied for one of two U.S. District Court vacancies, emerged alongside Minneapolis attorney John Marti late last year as a leading candidate to become the state's top federal law enforcement official and both candidates interviewed with senior Justice Department officials.
Minnesota is one of the last districts to get a nomination for U.S. attorney, with MacDonald's selection one of only two U.S. attorney nominations announced Tuesday.
The White House began announcing nominees for U.S. attorney vacancies in June 2017. But until Tuesday, each wave of about a half-dozen or more selections at a time lacked a pick for Minnesota's district as apparent twin search processes wended along.
Minnesota's three Republican congressmen each backed Minneapolis attorney Kevin Magnuson for the job. While home-state senators customarily advise the White House on the selection of judges and U.S. attorneys, when a state's senators are from the opposite party of the president, senior members of the House delegation may also wield influence.
Yet Klobuchar and former Sen. Al Franken, who also served on the Judiciary Committee before resigning in January, had also announced their own committee to field applications last spring and sent three names to the White House for consideration: Marti, Joseph Dixon III and Anders Folk.
In the end, a state court judge whose résumé was first considered for the federal bench a year ago is now poised to lead an office charged with prosecuting cases ranging from terrorism to complex white-collar fraud conspiracies.
MacDonald's nomination is not the only recent selection to put an end to a number of long-running federal vacancies in Minnesota: Hennepin County District Judge Nancy Brasel and Minneapolis attorney and law professor Eric Tostrud will both be on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a Senate Judiciary hearing on their respective nominations for the U.S. District Court in Minnesota. Trump nominated both candidates in February to fill vacancies left open since 2016.
Though the White House's latest round of nominations included eight selections for U.S. marshals around the country, Minnesota is still without a nominee for that position. It is unclear when a decision might be made or who might be in the running at this point.