Loretta Lynch makes history as the next U.S. Attorney General

After more than five long months of protracted waiting and intense scrutiny, United States Attorney Loretta Lynch made history yesterday, becoming the first black woman to serve as a U.S. Attorney General and thus the nation’s highest ranking law enforcement officer. Lynch’s confirmation was particularly grueling, with strong opposition from Republicans who were highly critical of her endorsement of President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. But at 56 votes in favor to 43 against, Lynch can now turn her attention to from congressional infighting to our nation’s biggest legal matters. Here’s everything you need to know about the 83rd Attorney General.

What is Loretta Lynch’s background?

Born and raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, Lynch is the daughter and granddaughter of Civil Rights activists. She grew up hearing stories about her grandfather’s fight against Jim Crow laws. In 1981, she graduated from Harvard College with degrees in American literature and English before heading to Harvard Law School, where she earned her Juris Doctor in 1984.

What are her professional accomplishments?

Since 1990, Lynch has worked as a prosecutor in the Eastern District, earning her stripes prosecuting violent crime, drug, sex trafficking, and political corruption cases in Brooklyn and Long Island. Nine years in, she was nominated and confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York by then-President Bill Clinton. She left that position after two years to work at a private practice, but returned in 2010 at the request of President Obama. Her most significant cases of late are the chokehold death of unarmed African-American Eric Garner and several corruption indictments against New York State politicians.

What sets Lynch apart from her predecessor?

Compared to outgoing A.G. Eric Holder, Lynch has more experience with prosecuting violent crime and thus a stronger relationship with law enforcement. In her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lynch expressed as much, saying, “Few things have pained me more than the recent reports of tension and division between law enforcement and the communities we serve.” She is also more likely to use the “speak softly and carry a big stick” approach when dealing with Congress, a sea change compared to Holder’s frequent spats with the governing body.

Another difference between the two is Lynch’s commitment to cyber security, which will capitalize on experience she gained prosecuting cyber criminals in New York.

What are some cases Lynch will work on in the coming months?

One of Lynch’s first cases will actually be deciding whether to prosecute the officers who allegedly killed Eric Garner, and to determine whether they violated existing Civil Rights legislation. In fact, that case is part of a larger, more fraught investigation by the Attorney General’s office into police brutality and questionable police shootings. Some are holding out hope that Lynch’s aforementioned relationship with law enforcement may help the proceedings go more smoothly.

In addition to that, Lynch is charged with reviewing the controversial Patriot Act, which was instituted post-9/11 and through one of its provisions, set to expire this June, grants the National Security Agency permission to collect American citizens’ phone records.

What is Lynch’s stance on drug prosecution? 

While Lynch is in favor of ending the War On Drugs, which contributed heavily to the United States’ mass incarceration problem, she is not supportive of state-by-state marijuana legalization, be it for medical or recreational use. She’s also unlikely to fight for the drug to be classified as less dangerous than alcohol.

What challenges does Loretta Lynch face?

There are many, not least of them a Congress with a Republican majority—but her biggest issue may be having enough time to establish an agenda at all. With President Obama due to leave office next November, Lynch could have less than two years in office serving the president. There’s no guarantee that whoever becomes our next President will want to keep her around. Still, her appointment has made an indelible mark in our nation’s history.

(Image via NBC)