President Obama will nominate Loretta Lynch, the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, for attorney general to succeed Eric Holder, the White House said Friday evening. If confirmed by the Senate, the low-profile but widely acclaimed prosecutor would be the first black woman to hold the position.
“Ms. Lynch is a strong, independent prosecutor who has twice led one of the most important U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the country. She will succeed Eric Holder, whose tenure has been marked by historic gains in the areas of criminal justice reform and civil rights enforcement,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement. Obama was scheduled to announce the nomination Saturday at the White House.
Obama also announced Friday the nomination of Tony Blinken to be the next U.S. deputy secretary of state. Blinken currently serves as the president’s deputy national security adviser.
Earlier Friday, before the attorney general announcement was official, legal experts enthused about the prospect that Lynch, 55, would be nominated to carry on Holder’s liberal legacy at the department.
In Lynch’s favor: A distinguished career, an inspiring biography, the fact that she has already been confirmed by the Senate by a voice vote, and the fact that she has no connection to the political side of the Obama administration, as some other candidates do.
“She’s handled a lot of tough cases,” Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, told msnbc. “I don’t think there will be any fight over the fact that she’s a terrific prosecutor.” And Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, said in a statement, “We are confident that Lynch will build on Holder’s strong legacy of standing up for civil rights and ensuring equal justice for all Americans. We call on Ms. Lynch to take a leading role in addressing the Supreme Court’s repeated efforts to deny access to the courts and the ballot box.”
Lynch’s best-known case is prosecuting and convicting New York City police officer Justin Volpe and others in 1999 for the sexual torture of Abner Louima after his arrest outside a Brooklyn nightclub. More recently, Lynch indicted Republican Rep. Michael Grimm on 20 counts, including fraud charges.
“Arresting more people or building more jails is not the ultimate solution to crime in our society. If there’s one thing we’ve learned is that there is no one solution,” Lynch said at a 2013 criminal justice symposium, according to The Crime Report.
At the same event, Lynch gave a measured response to a question about the New York Police Department’s “Stop and Frisk” policy.“I think it can be used and it can be misused. It’s a tool, just like anything else. It depends on who’s using it,” she said. “I think there’s a tendency in law enforcement that when something works, to put all the resources behind it. Sometimes there’s a lot of thought, and sometimes there’s not.”
The daughter and granddaughter of pastors, one of whom was a civil rights activist in the Jim Crow south during the 1930s. Lynch is in her second term as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
“I realized the power the law had over your life and how important it was that the people who wield that power look at each situation with a sense of fairness and evenhandedness,” Lynch told the Network Journal, a magazine for black professionals of her family’s influence in 2008.
“From Greensboro, N.C., to Harvard Law School and then to serve as attorney general, that represents the American Dream,” is how Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson described Lynch’s path to the New York Daily News.
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After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Lynch alternated her stints as a federal prosecutor with work at private law firms, including Cahill, Gordon and Reindel and Hogan & Hartson.
As a young lawyer, Lynch told the Network Journal, “I would go out and take depositions and be mistaken for the court reporter all the time.”
In 2005, she did pro-bono work as special counsel to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, focusing on protecting witnesses who testified about the genocide in that country.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Lynch is the only person to hold her position twice, first under Bill Clinton and now under Barack Obama. “A low-key, measured kind of personality is the way I would describe her,” one of her predecessors, Alan Vinegrad, told the Journal. “She’s really smart, has a winning personality and she’s very charming. But she can be very tough when she needs to be, especially in the courtroom.”
Fredrickson expressed hope that Lynch would carry on Holder’s legacy, “including putting a lot of focus on the right to vote, ensuring that the Civil Rights division is fully staffed, and recognizing the right of indigent defenders to have access to good lawyers.”
The Associated Press reported Friday that Obama would likely wait until after his trip to Asia next week to name his choice to succeed Holder, and that he would wait until the Republican-controlled Senate is in place in January rather than try to confirm a pick in the lame duck session.
If nominated, Lynch would join another distinguished woman waiting in the wings at the Justice Department.
In October, Vanita Gupta, who had been the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, became the acting chief of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. For her position to be permanent, Gupta, like Lynch, has to be confirmed by the Senate. Obama’s prior pick, Debo Adegbile, was rejected when Republicans and seven Democrats took issue with his defense on appeal of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer. President Obama called the vote a “travesty based on wildly unfair character attacks against a good and qualified public servant.”