For a country founded on its opposition to rule by a hereditary monarch, the United States has rather more than its share of family political dynasties. North Carolina has a few of its own, and as of this week a new one might be taking root.
Michael Easley Jr. — the son of former Gov. Mike Easley — has received President Joe Biden’s nomination to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Given that he also has the blessing of home-state U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, it’s quite likely that he will soon be overseeing the office that handles federal criminal prosecutions in our part of the state.
Tillis has indicated that in keeping with Senate custom, he and Burr, Republicans both, gave Biden, a Democrat, a list of prospective nominees for the job that they would find acceptable. If so, we’d rather that the president have picked another name off of it.
It’s not that we doubt the junior Easley’s credentials, or that we expect him and the career prosecutors in the Eastern District office to do anything less than a fine job in the coming years. He’s qualified, and the chances are the Eastern District will continue to perform admirably.
But because the Eastern District covers among other places Wake County — the seat of state government — its chief occupies one of the most sensitive criminal-justice jobs in the state, one that has control over many public-corruption cases.
For being based in Raleigh, a major media hub, it can also become a springboard to higher office. One recent Eastern District U.S. attorney, George Holding, rode his service there to four terms in Congress.
We like seeing our government draw on the widest possible talent pool, so it’s already a little disconcerting that among our state Supreme Court justices are the son of state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger Sr. and the grandson of Watergate-era U.S. Sen. Sam Ervin Jr.
The younger Berger’s presence on the court creates a continuing conflict-of-interest problem given how often the N.C. General Assembly is involved in litigation these days. Columnist Rob Schofield discussed the issue on this page recently, and we find nothing to quarrel with in his analysis.
Nor are the Bergers and Ervins the only examples.
Going back a bit, Alamance County’s Scott family produced two governors in the second half of the 20th century, and could have been on its way to producing a third in the 21st until former state Agriculture Commissioner Meg Scott Phipps ran afoul of a corruption investigation.
As a federal prosecutor, the younger Easley will always have to be conscious of avoiding the appearance of political score-settling because his father, after leaving office, found himself the target of a Holding-led corruption probe that ended with the former governor submitting an Alford plea to a campaign-finance felony.
It’s a burden of perception the office doesn’t need.
At the federal level, it’s worth considering whether the U.S. Constitution could use an amendment imposing a lifetime ban on the children, spouses and siblings of presidents from serving in any federal office, elective and otherwise.
There’s something in that for both parties, given the various Kennedys, Clintons and Bushes that have served in high office and the talk, loose and otherwise, about multiple Obamas and Trumps someday trying to follow their example.
What might be good for the country would be good for the state as well.
Not that we expect Berger Sr. to take the lead on the issue, but there are plenty of other state senators and N.C. House members who could file a request for an anti-nepotism amendment to the North Carolina constitution. Here’s hoping several take that step and at least start the conversation.