It’s about time.
After five months in political limbo, Loretta Lynch was confirmed Thursday as the first African American female U.S. Attorney General and will lead the Justice Department at a time when police-related killings of unarmed black men has erupted into a national crisis.
Lynch, 55, who was subjected to the longest wait for an Attorney General nominee since the Reagan administration, will begin her new job Monday, replacing Attorney General Eric Holder who will say goodbye to his staff on Friday.
“Today, the Senate finally confirmed Loretta Lynch to be America’s next Attorney General – and America will be better off for it,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Thursday. “Loretta’s confirmation ensures that we are better positioned to keep our communities safe, keep our nation secure, and ensure that every American experiences justice under the law.”
Obama has demonstrated his ability to push through historic Black appointments. Holder was the first African American Attorney General and Lynch is the first Black female to head the Justice Department. Rev. Al Sharpton called Lynch’s appointment “a game changer.”
Republicans have been delaying Lynch’s confirmation for months, a decision mired in political madness. What strikes me as totally dysfunctional is this: For years, Republicans have insisted that Attorney General Eric Holder was the wrong person to lead the Justice Department, arguing that he should be removed. But for the past five months, Republicans had the chance to replace Holder and did nothing.
Many civil rights activists and African American legislators pointed to race as the reason Lynch’s nomination was stalled.
“Loretta Lynch is a gifted attorney, a consummate professional, and a dedicated public servant,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Thursday. “I am pleased that the United States Senate has recognized her clear qualifications and the need for her confirmation as Attorney General of the United States. She is respected by law enforcement officers, civil rights leaders, and criminal justice officials of all political stripes,” Holder said. “In every case and every circumstance, she has demonstrated an unfailing commitment to the rule of law and a steadfast fidelity to the pursuit to justice.”
Lynch is replacing Holder at a time when there are a number of critical civil rights cases involving African Americans under review by the Justice Department. Many civil rights activists are looking to Lynch to take up the mantle and continue pursuing these cases with the same passion that Holder has exhibited.
Lynch will immediately inherit the high-profile case of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old Baltimore man who died mysteriously from a severed spine on April 19 after being in police custody. The Justice Department said it would investigate Gray’s death before Lynch was confirmed.
Gray is now part of a growing list of unarmed Black men who have been killed by police officers over the years. Several recent killings have been captured on video. It’s an epidemic that Congress has largely ignored.
Lynch is the former United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Her current tenure as U.S. Attorney began in 2010, and she previously held the position from 1999−2001. As U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Lynch oversees federal prosecutions in Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and Long Island.
She was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Her father was a fourth-generation Baptist minister; her mother, an English teacher and school librarian. Lynch’s family church served a meeting place for students organizing anti-segregation boycotts in the early 1960s. At Harvard University in the 70’s, she and Sharon Malone, Holder’s wife, organized the first Delta Sigma Theta chapter at the school.
“The historic significance of Ms. Lynch’s confirmation cannot be overstated,” said Leslie Proll, Director of the Washington, D.C. office at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund. “Her confirmation should not have been this difficult; Congress should now extend considerable good will to the Attorney General as she faces the immense challenges at the helm of the Department.”
Lynch is eminently qualified to lead the Justice Department and will likely advocate for criminal justice reform. Today, with more African American men becoming targets of police, Lynch’s role as the nation’s 83rd Attorney General is critical for communities of color in a so-called post-racial America.