In Texas district where James Byrd was lynched, a Black man will become top prosecutor


The choice of a top prosecutor in a federal court district sends a message, and President Joe Biden’s nomination of Dallas prosecutor Damien Diggs to become U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Texas is significant beyond his impressive resume.

If confirmed, Diggs would become the first Black lawyer to lead the vast district which includes Plano, Beaumont, Sherman, Tyler, Marshall, Texarkana and Jasper, the site of the 1998 James Byrd lynching. But Diggs’ nomination to head a major district also is significant in light of criticism that the Department of Justice is not sufficiently diverse and representative of the nation.

The vetting and confirmation processes still have to play out in the Senate, but Diggs already has the support of Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Republicans and members of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee that will review the nomination. And before she left Congress, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Dallas Democrat, backed Diggs.

Diversity has been a persistent issue within the DOJ. In a letter in 2019 to then-Attorney General William Barr, the Department of Justice Association of Black Attorneys said that Black attorneys made up just 6.58% of all DOJ attorneys and that, at that time, the number of Black attorneys at DOJ was the lowest it had been in the last five years. They also expressed concern about the lack of upward mobility, retention and internships.

Diversity in the ranks of the Department of Justice is as important as diversity in the ranks of local police departments, corporations and every aspect of life. U.S. attorneys are powerful public servants with vast legal authority to set and pursue enforcement priorities from guns and drugs cases to financial crimes and sex trafficking. U.S. attorneys make critical charging decisions and work with local and state prosecutors to determine whether certain cases warrant the weight and resources of the federal government.

Professionally, Diggs, who graduated from Towson University and received a law degree from American University, brings experience as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Texas in Dallas under then-U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox. She tapped him for many important roles, including leadership of the office’s oversight of voter fraud and election complaints from the 2020 general election.

Diggs also prosecuted violent crimes in Washington, D.C., and worked on Project Safe Neighborhoods, a nationwide collaboration of prosecutors, law enforcement agencies at all levels of government and community leaders. He also worked in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

We look forward to the confirmation process and the possibility of history being made in East Texas.

We welcome your thoughts in a letter to the editor. See the guidelines and submit your letter here.