Lynch Has Big Shoes to Fill as New U. S. Attorney General by Joyce Jones

April 28, 2015

Lynch Has Big Shoes to Fill as New U. S.  Attorney General
By Joyce Jones

ag swearing in

Vice President Joe Biden completes the swearing in of Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Photo: Department of Justice

( – Loretta Lynch, the former federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, made history when the U.S. Senate on April 23 finally confirmed her nomination by a vote of 56 to 43 to become the first African-American woman to serve as the nation's attorney general.

Lynch simultaneously made history as the nominee for the nation's top lawyer's spot to wait the longest for a confirmation vote. But after 160-plus days and several protests by Black leaders and activists, Vice President Joe Biden swore Lynch into office on April 27. She is the 83rd person to hold the post. Minutes later she went right to work.

Lynch could not have had a more challenging first day as the nation's top cop as protesters in Baltimore dominated the headlines throughout the day and into the night, looting businesses, burning cars and facing off with the city's law enforcement officers in reaction to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died after his spinal cord was severed while in police custody.

Gray's death is just the latest in a series of police-related deaths of African-Americans, mostly unarmed, at the hands of police. These events have also raised the inevitable comparisons: Will Lynch be as passionate and determined as an advocate for civil rights as Holder was?

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington Bureau has no doubts.

"I was at her swearing in and we're very proud of her and very excited about her new leadership. She is someone who will continue to carry the mantle of addressing the real inequities and problems within our justice system as Holder," Shelton told the Trice Edney News Wire. "We're convinced that she is extraordinarily gifted and prepared to take the reins behind Holder's extraordinary tenure."

Given what some, including U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), calls "open season" on African-Americans, the NAACP and other organizations are looking to Lynch to make a fairer criminal justice system one of her top priorities.

"We worked very closely with Holder to put in place federal level antiracial profiling policies," Shelton said. "We're looking forward to her continuing that process through the patterns and practices unit and other applicable departments in agencies tied to the Department of Justice to fully implement these policies and concerns."

Voting rights and stemming the school to prison pipeline are other issues that the NAACP and other civil rights organizations hope will be at the top of Lynch's to-do list.

While Shelton and other civil rights leaders are convinced that Lynch is "the best person to hit the ground running" on the issues that matter to them most, San Francisco State University political scientist, Dr. Robert Smith, is not as convinced.

Holder, in the minds of many leaders and activists, set the gold standard for civil rights advocacy and often served as an outspoken surrogate for President Obama on issues of race and civil rights.

"It may be unfair to judge her by him but I think that's the way people will assess lynch," Smith said. "She also only has one-and-a-half years in office, so I don't know if she can do very much."

Smith also noted that Lynch may well have a different philosophy than her predecessor. For one thing, she has a stronger relationship with law enforcement and reportedly has made raising police morale a priority.

"I don't know why police morale would be low," Smith said. "They've gotten away with virtually everything they've done."

Lynch, he adds, seems to be a more of a "prosecutor's prosecutor," whose tenure thus far has been less focused on social justice and civil rights than Holder's.

"I think black leaders and observers of the Justice Department were very, very pleased with his tenure and will kind of look to him as a base mark by which to judge Lynch," Smith said, "He had a genuine interest in race and civil rights and I think she's a more traditional prosecutor."

Speaking after the swearing in, Lynch also issued a challenge to her new staff.

"We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all.  We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them.  We can protect the most vulnerable among us from the scourge of modern-day slavery – so antithetical to the values forged in blood in this country.  We can protect the growing cyber world," Lynch said. "I cannot wait to begin that journey."

Her predecessor, former Attorney General Eric Holder, in his farewell speech to the agency's employees on April 24, expressed deep faith in Lynch's ability to lead the Justice Department during a very turbulent time.

Also, in her speech, Lynch thanked her parents, Lorenzo Lynch, a Baptist preacher who tirelessly lobbied lawmakers on her behalf during the confirmation process, and her mother, Lorine Lynch, "who raised a daughter whom she always told, whatever the dream, whether lawyer, prosecutor or even attorney general, 'Of course you can.'"