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Loretta Lynch: The Legacy of the First Black Woman Appointed U.S. Attorney General


U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch

In her final weeks in office as U.S. attorney general, Loretta Lynch is still determined to seek justice for Americans. Sheannounced in a video statement on Friday that she is directing the Department of Justice to investigate if the recent rise in hate crimes is related to the 2016 presidential election.

Lynch, 57, a Harvard graduate and member of the sorority Delta Sigma Theta, was the first African American woman to serve as U.S. attorney general. Her tenure will come to an end when President-elect Donald Trump takes office on Jan. 20, 2017. Last week, Trump selected Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, a man with a history of racism.

President Bill Clinton appointed Lynch as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in 1999, but she left to return to private practice in 2001. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed her for a second time.

On Nov. 8, 2014, Obama nominated Lynch to succeed U.S. Attorney GeneralEric Holder.The Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate confirmed her appointment on Feb. 26, 2015, by a 128 vote,paving the way for her confirmation by the full Senate.

A number of Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell,blocked the nomination for more than 160 days. They insisted on passing a delayedanti-human trafficking billbefore a vote regarding Lynch took place. Democrats blocked the bill because of the language of an abortion-related provision.

McConnell announced on April 21, 2015, that negotiators had reached a “bipartisan” deal on the bill, clearing the way for a vote to confirm Lynch. Two days later, on April 23, 2015, the Senate finally confirmed her, by a 5643 vote. Vice President Joe Biden swore Lynch into office on April 27, 2015.

A few months after beginning her tenure, on June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof murdered nine Black members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., including the pastor of the church, State Senator Clementa Pinckney. It was a tragedy that shook the nation to its core.

Lynch announced on July 22, 2015, that Roof would be charged with a hate crime. She then announced on May 24, 2016, that the Justice Department would seek the death penalty for Roof.

The attorney general has also facilitated high-profile cases involving policing and corruption, including an inquiry into the practices of the Baltimore Police Department following unrest in the summer of 2015 and an inquiry into the Chicago Police Department.

On Dec. 7, 2015, in light of the revelations around the death of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald, Lynch announced that the DOJ would be investigating whether the police department routinely violates the constitutional and federal rights of citizens.

In February, the DOJ filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the city of Ferguson, Mo., alleging a pattern or practice of law enforcement conduct that violates the First, Fourth and 14th Amendments of the Constitution and federal civil rights laws.

Lynch also participated in a national Community Policing Tour, in which she visited police departments around the county. The tour built upon President Obama’s commitment to engage with law enforcement and other members of the community to implement key recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing’s final report.

The U.S. is incarcerating people at a higher rate than any other nation in the world, with proven racial disparities in incarceration rates for African Americans and whites. Lynch has been a staunch advocate for criminal justice reform, calling it “a transformative issue of our generation.”

In a speech on November 15, Lynch urged Trump’s administration to maintain the DOJ’s focus on combatting fineand bail policies that have turned the poor into a source of revenue for some towns and cities.

“Bringing justice to those who feel excluded and left behind is one of the great civil rights challenges of our times. And the work to meet that challenge begun under this administration must continue into the next,” the attorney general said, without mentioning Trump by name.

“Regardless of our political beliefs, we should be able to agree, as Americans, that poverty is not a crime. We should be able to agree, as Americans, that justice is not a commodity to be bought and sold. We should be able to agree, as Americans, that the law should empower the most vulnerable not oppress them.”

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