Introducing Loretta Lynch: United States Attorney General

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Loretta Lynch -- ready for the job

Loretta E. Lynch, 55, has made history. She is to soon officially become the 83rd U.S. Attorney General.

Lynch knew she was placing herself in the cross-hairs of a political battle. With little time and a long docket, she must prove herself in the midst of a storm. 

She is the first African-American woman, second African-American, and second woman to hold the office of U.S. Attorney General.

She comes with an interesting international dimension in her background -- Lynch has served as a Special Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, prosecuting genocide suspects.

As Attorney General she will deal with domestic and international issues of which some pressing topical ones include: allegations of race-based police killings around the U.S.; voting rights; Wall Street financial transgressions; ISIS; cybercrimes; immigration, terrorist threats; and Guantanamo Bay -- all while under the scrutiny of a Republican-controlled Congress and conservative-led U.S. Supreme Court.

On January 28, Loretta Lynch was questioned about her intentions should she become U.S. Attorney General. However, it was Eric Holder, not Lynch, at the forefront of members of the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. At one point, questioning of Lynch was more a criticism of Holder, who resigned after six contentious years, than concerns about Lynch's qualifications.

Eric Holder, 56, is an outspoken champion of racial justice, immigration, same-sex marriage, and reforms on Wall Street. He is married to the sister of the late Vivian Malone, who desegregated the University of Alabama. Holder who described himself as President Barack Obama’s “wing-man” used the Attorney General’s office to address social justice issues, such as the police killing of unarmed civilians that ignited protests, nationwide, and brought America international rebukes.

Loretta Lynch inherited Holder’s docket and controversy. At her hearing, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), now a candidate for President, peppered Lynch about her position on immigration, due to Holder’s support of President Obama’s Dream Act which gives amnesty to illegal immigrants. Lynch agreed with Executive amnesty. With great poise, this daughter of a librarian and Baptist minister, with one brother who is a Navy SEAL and the other a minister, refused to back down to Sen. Cruz.

At that January hearing, Senators questioned whether Lynch believed water-boarding was torture? Yes. Supported the legalization of marijuana? No; she does not agree with President Obama on this issue. Would continue the NSA program of terror surveillance? Yes, she believes it is an effective tool. In her opening statement, Loretta Lynch said, “protecting the American people from terrorism must be the primary mission of today’s Department of Justice.” 

“I see a combination of steel and velvet,” remarked Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA), at that January hearing. Lynch is diminutive, standing about 5 feet tall. Her southern graciousness - she is a native of Greensborough, North Carolina - combined with a determined spirit will certainly be beneficial in this political maelstrom that is Capitol Hill. The Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 in her favor, in January. But, the full Senate vote has been stalled.

After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Lynch worked in private practice as a partner in a major law firm, but returned to public service. She entered the U.S. attorney’s office in New York and rose up the ranks in the Eastern District of New York and was twice confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, which covers Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Long Island.

Although she is responsible for such cases the 2014 indictment of Republican Michael Grimm, the Staten Island Congressman, who later resigned, Lynch has remained out of the national lime-light.

In 1999, she prosecuted police officers responsible for the brutal attack on Abner Louima. 

The Judiciary Committee approved her nomination on February 26. But, the process stalled again. It has taken over five months altogether to bring Lynch’s nomination to the Senate floor for a full vote. Pamela Meanes, president of the National Bar Association, drafted a "cease and desist" order to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is blamed for the delay. President Obama called this historic delay “embarrassing.” Partisan division over an abortion-related provision in an anti-sex trafficking bill was finally resolved.   

But, now, with less than two years left in the Obama Administration, Lynch has little time for new initiatives. And, extending the legacy of Eric Holder will certainly raise further opposition from Republicans. Differentiating herself from Holder was a key point made by Republicans and some Democratic Senators. When asked if she was just like Eric Holder, nominee Lynch calmly responded, “I am not Eric Holder.  I am Loretta Lynch.”

Now that she has entered the national stage, America will soon find out how Attorney General Loretta Lynch will address the nation’s diverse concerns. If her past record is any indication, it will be with grace and tenacity.


Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an Associate Professor of Constitutional Law at John Jay College (CUNY), is a writer and legal correspondent covering the U.S. Supreme Court, United Nations, and major legal issues. Twitter: GBrowneMarshall



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