Feature image via IB Times/Wikimedia Commons
On Thursday, the Senate confirmed Loretta Lynch as the first black woman to ever hold the office of Attorney General. President Barack Obama nominated her last year, and after a record 166-day confirmation wait — Republicans delayed the nomination as part of a fight over a human trafficking bill — Lynch will succeed Eric Holder as the chief law enforcement officer in the country. As attorney general, she will have the unique responsibility of representing the nation in court, both to defend its laws and to prosecute breaches of them. As such, she will have a whole lot of power over the issues important to the country and to us as individuals.
Lynch has had a long career since graduating from Harvard Law School in 1984, including a private practice and two runs as U.S. Attorney for Eastern New York (Obama and former President Bill Clinton both picked her for the position). She’s already tackled many of the major issues of our day, from cybersecurity to corruption to civil rights. Here’s where she stands on four of the biggest issues we’d like to see her address:
You’re probably as disappointed to see these topics under a single section header as I am to have to put them here. Thus far, Lynch’s work hasn’t given her much opportunity to act on issues like “religious freedom” laws, “bathroom bills,” parental rights and others affecting LGBT communities. She did speak about same-sex marriage during her confirmation hearings, but only to cite her inexperience with the issue when Sen. Lindsey Graham asked her about the familiar “slippery slope” arguments. The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement in support of her nomination based on her “strong record on civil and human rights,” but provided no further detail on that record. The one thing we can tell from her history is that Lynch values highly the rights of individuals in this country, especially when they face abuse from systems of power. If this becomes yet another area in which Lynch follows predecessor Holder’s footsteps, she could become a strong ally on LGBT issues.
During her first term as U.S. Attorney, Lynch prosecuted a group of New York police officers who brutalized Haitian immigrant Abner Louima after an incident outside a nightclub. That case and a series of others involving police misconduct have established her as someone who both respects police and maintains a critical eye toward them. It’s a good balance to have struck, especially because as attorney general, Lynch will be responsible for deciding whether to bring charges in the case of Eric Garner. Her U.S. attorney’s office conducted the initial federal civil rights investigation into the case, so she has an intimate view on the situation that another candidate would not have had. However, she also knows how hard such a case would be to prosecute, and unfortunately, that’s often the reason that what seem like clear-cut situations of police brutality get swept under the rug. But Lynch made a name for herself busting corruption, and that’s experience she could use to make a real difference as attorney general.
Lynch has split most notably from the president’s opinions on marijuana. After Obama spoke to the New Yorker about his belief that the drug is “a bad habit and a vice” ultimately no different than cigarettes or alcohol, Lynch said during confirmation hearings that she “certainly [doesn’t] hold that view.” She further asserted that her strong personal opinion would not change were she confirmed as attorney general. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote shortly after her nomination that Lynch “flourished doing the hard, ordinary work of federal prosecution,” including pursuing narcotics cases in her drug-plagued district. Still, the federal government has set its precedent on pot; Mic notes that 2013’s with “Cole Memo,” the DOJ has “effectively ceded the issue to the states.” It would be a major departure from Holder’s actions for Lynch to set her sights on taking down legal marijuana in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia. Instead, it seems likely that she will continue Holder’s path of reforming a system that prioritizes harsh drug punishments and also prosecute those responsible for narcotics crimes.
The American prison system is absolutely bursting, and it’s common knowledge that young men of color are its most frequent victims. During his time as attorney general, Holder made breaking the school-to-prison pipeline a priority. He’s worked to identify childhood trauma as being linked to crime, challenge prejudiced local court systems, strengthen due process and dismantle the culture of physical, emotional and sexual abuse for young people in prisons, according to the Hill. As Politico reported, Lynch has spoken in support of many of Holder’s moves, acknowledging the “incredibly harsh impact” disparities in sentencing minimums for certain drugs has had on black and Latino communities. She has also spoken openly about the need to fix the system of incarceration, telling journalists in 2013 that “arresting more people or building more jails is not the ultimate solution to crime in our society.” Often, though, she refers to much-criticized tactics like stop-and-frisk and the death penalty as useful tools that have simply been improperly used. It seems that, as with many issues, Lynch sees prison reform as an occasion to tread carefully in the hopes that she can find bipartisan accord where her predecessors could not.
Immediately after her nomination, Lynch was hounded by Republican legislators who hoped she would formally denounce the president’s recent executive actions on immigration reform. Obama had announced a series of orders expanding the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program to include those who entered the nation illegally before 2010, regardless of age, and allowing the parents of permanent residents and citizen to apply for deportation deferrals and work permits. Lynch ultimately stood behind the president’s decision, with the caveat that she would abide by any court order determining that his actions were illegal. So far, the courts have affirmed the orders as well. Lynch’s support of the president became a huge issue in her confirmation hearings, and some Republicans who had previously expressed interest in her candidacy vocally changed their minds once she expressed it. That didn’t intimidate the candidate, however, and ultimately did not bar her from securing the job. Coming into office, Lynch appears to be a strong voice in the immigration debate.