Loretta Lynch was sworn in as U.S. attorney general on Monday, becoming the first black woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
Lynch, who was confirmed by the Senate on April 23, replaces Eric Holder as head of the Justice Department. Her confirmation on a 56-43 vote ended a five-month wait after her nomination, which was marked by partisan fights over unrelated legislation and Republican concerns that she won’t be independent enough from President Barack Obama.
Lynch met with Obama Monday and updated the president on events in Baltimore, where protesters clashed with police over the case of Freddie Gray, a black man who died while in custody.
During brief remarks after being sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden, Lynch spoke generally about her priorities as attorney general, mentioning the importance of battling human trafficking, terrorism and cybercrime, three issues she has highlighted in the past.
“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,” she said. “We can protect the growing cyber world. We can give those in our care both protection from terrorism and the security of their civil liberties.”
She thanked her husband, Stephen Hargrove, and her father, Lorenzo Lynch, who held the Bible during the oath. The new attorney general also spoke of her childhood in North Carolina and how her parents, a pastor and a librarian, helped her achieve her goals.
“I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see ‘way up high, Granddaddy,’ can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything,” said Lynch, 55.
With just 21 months until Obama leaves office, Lynch doesn’t have much time to cement a legacy at the Justice Department, which has an annual budget of $26 billion. Its 116,000 employees work as agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as federal prosecutors, grant specialists and analysts.
Holder had more than six years to leave an imprint on issues such as civil rights, pursuing terrorists and revising sentencing laws. Because Lynch agrees with Holder on most issues and faces a short tenure, she’s likely to make only slight changes.
When Obama nominated her on Nov. 8, she wasn’t expected to run into much turbulence during confirmation because she was seen as a tough-on-crime prosecutor who had a compelling personal narrative.
Even so, Republicans said they were skeptical that she would be sufficiently independent from Obama, and they criticized her support for his executive actions on immigration.
Lynch, the daughter of a Baptist preacher and a librarian, was a federal prosecutor in the Eastern District of New York for nine years before becoming its chief prosecutor in 1999. She left the office in 2001 to enter private practice and returned to the U.S. attorney’s post in 2010.
As U.S. attorney, Lynch had a reputation for being tough on terrorism, cybercrime and public corruption. Her district covers Brooklyn, Staten Island, Queens and the two suburban counties on Long Island. As co-chairwoman of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, she has deep knowledge of how the Justice Department operates.
Lynch is being replaced on an acting basis in Brooklyn by Kelly T. Currie, 51, who has served as the office’s second-in-command since November. Currie previously worked for the law firm Crowell & Moring LLP, and he was a federal prosecutor from 1999 to 2010.