COLUMBIA -- Criminal defense attorney Bill Nettles has been approved to serve as South Carolina's top federal prosecutor.

The U.S. Senate approved Nettles' nomination Thursday.

Nettles practices law with his father-in-law, former judge and Charleston School of Law founder Alex Sanders. He primarily handles criminal defense and death penalty cases.

In December, President Barack Obama nominated the 48-year-old attorney to succeed Walt Wilkins, who held the post since mid-2008. Kevin McDonald has served as acting U.S attorney since Wilkins left office in January.

Reached on a surfing vacation in the Bahamas, Nettles said he was "thrilled" to have won Senate approval on a bipartisan voice vote.

"I really appreciate the support of both parties," Nettles said. "I promise that I will represent all the people of South Carolina."

Sanders, a retired S.C. Court of Appeals chief justice, called Nettles "an exceptional lawyer and an honest man. He'll make an excellent U.S. attorney."

U.S. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., hailed Nettles' Senate confirmation.

"Highly regarded by his peers, Bill is well-qualified and has led a distinguished legal career," Clyburn said. "His wide-ranging and extensive background in both criminal and civil law will serve him well."

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also praised Nettles.

"Bill will do an outstanding job," Graham said. "I appreciate the bipartisan support which led to his nomination and look forward to working with him to ensure that South Carolina remains safe and secure."

Nettles was an early supporter of Obama, who scored a key victory in January 2008 in the S.C. Democratic primary. He provided legal advice to Obama's campaign in the state.

After graduating from The Citadel in 1983, Nettles earned a law degree from the Widener University School of Law in 1992. He served as a public defender in Richland County from 1995 to 1997 before entering private practice.

In 2005 Nettles formed Sanders & Nettles LLC in Charleston with Sanders, who is a former president of the College of Charleston and the 2002 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.