President Barack Obama’s pick for Attorney General has strong ties to New York.
On Saturday he nominated New York prosecutor Loretta Lynch, a day after rumors surfaced that he would. Lynch could fill the vacancy left by Eric Holder, who resigned as Attorney General in September.
If the Senate approves of the choice, Lynch will be the first African-American female U.S. attorney general. Holder was the first African-American attorney general, period.
“It’s pretty hard to be more qualified than Loretta. She has distinguished herself as tough, fair, an independent lawyer,” said Obama in explanation of his choice.
Lynch has spent decades in the Empire State practicing law.
She’s served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York twice, serving from 1999 to 2001, under President Bill Clinton, and returning to her old job after nearly a decade as a law firm partner.
Notable cases include Lynch indicting Republican Staten Island Representative Michael Grimm for 20 counts of fraud and tax evasion, jailing numerous mobsters, and prosecuting the terrorists who planned to bomb the subway and the Federal Reserve Bank.
Obama summed up her career by saying, “Loretta might be the only lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists and still has a reputation for being a charming people person.”
New York Police Commissioner William Bratton called her an old friend and “a steady hand in New York’s battles against crime, corruption, and terrorism.”
She grew up in urban Greensboro, N.C., as the daughter of a school librarian and a fourth generation Baptist pastor.
“That’s a little intimidating, being the daughter of a school librarian and a minister,” Obama joked, as Lynch nodded and laughed beside him.
Born just a year before the famous civil rights Greensboro sit-ins where black college students sat in white-only lunch areas to protest segregation, Lynch was inspired by stories of her grandfather who helped people escaping from Jim Crow laws.
After attending Harvard for undergrad and law school, Lynch worked her way up from a small-time lawyer to gradual promotions.
Jeh Johnson, secretary of Homeland Security, who was nominated by Obama in 2009 and previously served as assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, supported Lynch’s nomination.
Johnson first met Lynch in 1997, in a courtroom where she was the prosecutor and he was the defense attorney.
“Since then I have watched Loretta progress as a solid, steady, and experienced prosecutor,” said Johnson in a press release.
She called her New York district office, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties, and Staten Island, her “professional home,” in her acceptance speech of Obama’s nomination Saturday.
“I will carry you with me wherever I go,” said Lynch of her New York office.
Her nomination has garnered support from various social justice groups and Democratic leaders.
Yet her nomination received some criticism.
Texas Republican Ted Cruz who is on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will play a role in Lynch’s pending appointment, took to Twitter Friday to retort: “Democratic senators who just lost their seats shouldn’t confirm new Attorney General. Should be vetted by new Congress.”
Cruz’s comment reflects the new Republican-controlled Senate following heated midterms where Democratic candidates lost their footing.
Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, who is also on the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted in a statement that U.S. Attorneys rarely become Attorney General.
Still, Lynch pledged that if the Senate approved her, “I will wake up every morning with the protection of the American people my first thought.”