President Obama on Saturday nominated New York federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as attorney general, making her the first African-American woman chosen to be the top law enforcement official in the county.
At an event in the White House’s Roosevelt Room, Obama bid farewell to Holder, who announced in September he would step down as attorney general, and praised Lynch as the most qualified to take over the post. “Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists and still has the reputation for being a charming people person,” Obama said.
Lynch, 55, was previously appointed to two stints as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York – which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Long Island and Staten Island – first in 2000 and again in 2010.
Lynch’s nomination comes just days after a devastating midterm election for Democrats, when Republicans picked up crucial seats to seize control of the Senate.
Outgoing Attorney General Holder, who served under Obama for six years, leaves behind a record grounded in civil rights, from reforming drug sentencing to protecting voting rights to supporting marriage equality. Holder’s legacy, however, is also marked by deep opposition from congressional Republicans, who in 2010 voted to hold him in contempt of Congress over the botched gun-running operation, Fast and Furious.
Standing beside the president, Lynch thanked her family and her colleagues, and pledged to carry on Holder’s legacy. “I will wake up every morning with the protection of the American people as my first thought and I will work everyday to safeguard the citizens, our liberties, our rights and this great nation which has given so much to me and my family.”
Lynch, who in the past has won Senate approval through a voice vote to assume her role as a federal prosecutor, must now seek confirmation during the lame duck session to secure the spot, or face approval from a Republican controlled Senate next year. Obama called on the Senate to confirm her “without delay.”
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is set to become the next majority leader, has signaled that the confirmation process should begin once his party assumes control of the upper chamber. “Ms. Lynch will receive fair consideration by the Senate,” McConnell said in a statement. “And her nomination should be considered in the new Congress through regular order.”
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Lynch is a low-profile prosecutor who built a strong reputation going after police brutality, terrorism and organized crime. She made her name in 1997 for prosecuting Justin Volpe, a New York City police officer who was ultimately convicted for beating and sodomizing a Haitian immigrant, Abner Louima. Notably, Lynch also led the prosecution against Rep. Michael Grim, who was indicted on 20 counts, including fraud.
Unlike other names floated to succeed Holder in the attorney general’s office – including U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez – Lynch has no direct ties to the president. That detail that could help her confirmation process, as the administration has been criticized for seldom plucking cabinet candidates from outside Obama’s inner circle.
“Loretta doesn’t look to make headlines, she looks to make a difference,” Obama said. “She’s not about splash, she’s about substance.”