Joseph Dawson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina

The J. Waites Waring Judicial Center in Charleston, SC

There has never been an African American judge on the South Carolina federal bench appointed by a Republican President.  If confirmed, Charleston County attorney Joseph Dawson would break that notable barrier.

Background

Born in 1970, Joseph Dawson III received a B.A. from The Citadel in 1991 and a J.D. from the University of South Carolina Law School in 1997.[1]  While a law student, Dawson worked as a clerk at the Charleston County Attorney’s Office.  Upon graduation, Dawson was hired there as an Assistant County Attorney.  In 2000, Dawson became Deputy County Attorney and has served as County Attorney since 2001.[2] 

Additionally, Dawson has also maintained a part-time solo practice since 2001.

History of the Seat

The seat Dawson has been nominated for opened on February 28, 2019, with Judge Terry Wooten’s move to senior status.  Dawson was nominated on October 23, 2020 at the recommendation of U.S. Sen. Tim Scott.

Legal Experience

Dawson’s primary role is as County Attorney for Charleston County.  In this capacity, Dawson oversees all legal matters for the County and manages the County Attorney’s Office, with a budget of approximately $1.7 million.[3]  Among Dawson’s more prominent cases, he was the primary lawyer defending the County Assessor in a suit challenging tax assessments laid against a new Hampton Inn & Suites.[4]  After losing the suit at trial, Dawson appealed the matter to the South Carolina Court of Appeals and the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld the assessment.[5]

However, Dawson’s tenure as County Attorney has not been without some controversy.  In 2011, Dawson drew criticism for drawing an income of over $300,000 a year from the County, significantly more than other County Attorneys across the state.[6]  Dawson’s contract maintained a fixed salary of $172,500 but permitted compensation for additional legal services, which allowed for the greater income.[7] 

Overall Assessment

Salary issues aside, there is little in Dawson’s background that should attract controversy during his confirmation.  Rather, the biggest issue Dawson is facing is the depleting Senate calendar.  Nonetheless, I expect that, as Dawson has already received a hearing and the Judiciary Chairman is his home-state senator, his nomination will be one of the last confirmed before the end of the Congress.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Joseph Dawson III: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 17-18.

[4] See Charleston Cnty. Assessor v. Univ. Ventures, LLC, 427 S.C. 273 (2019).

[5] Id. 

[6] Bill Sharpe, Charleston County Attorney Dodges Questions About His Salary, Live 5 News, May 3, 2011, https://www.live5news.com/story/14566073/charleston-county-attorney-dodges-questions-about-his-salary/.

[7] See id.

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