President Obama could hardly have found a less polarizing choice to succeed Eric Holder as head the Department of Justice than Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Her nomination will be a good test of intentions for Republicans who say they want to govern rather than merely obstruct the president.
For starters, Ms. Lynch, 55, has already been confirmed — twice — by the Senate, once when she served as chief federal prosecutor in Brooklyn under President Clinton (1999-2001), and again in the same position under President Obama since 2010. Her qualifications are not in doubt.
Second, she is an apolitical choice. Mr. Obama reached out to someone who is known primarily for her work, not for her political connections. The president deliberately passed over other possible choices who might have been more controversial (and harder to confirm) because of their ties to him or their role in pushing high-profile policies, such as Solicitor General Donald Verrilli.
Ms. Lynch, in contrast, has a strong record as prosecutor. She has brought corruption charges against public officials of both parties and also aided a Justice Department investigation of Citigroup mortgage securities that resulted in the bank paying a $7 billion settlement. She charged the mobsters allegedly responsible for the 36-year-old heist of $6 million in cash and jewelry from a Lufthansa Airlines vault at Kennedy Airport, dramatized in the movie Goodfellas, and helped prosecute police officers who severely beat and sexually assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima.
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We hope that Ms. Lynch plans to make civil rights a priority, as has Mr. Holder, especially with regard to voting rights. She should follow up on Mr. Holder’s project to study racial bias in law enforcement in an attempt to find strategies to address the problem nationally. This effort grew out of the ongoing racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri, and other killings like that of Trayvon Martin.
One aspect of Mr. Holder’s tenure that Ms. Lynch should definitely not emulate, however, is the current attorney general’s disdain for the rights of the news media. His zeal to stop government leaks has resulted in more prosecutions under the Espionage Act than those brought by all his predecessors combined.
In doing so, Mr. Holder’s Justice Department has hounded and intimidated journalists, ignored customary rules of procedure governing journalists and sources, seized phone and email records of reporters and fought all the way to the Supreme Court to coerce reporters to reveal the sources of stories that embarrassed the administration. Ms. Lynch should reject these actions as repugnant to the First Amendment and the ideals of justice.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, expressed “every confidence that Ms. Lynch will receive a very fair, but thorough, vetting by the Judiciary Committee.” Fair enough. That’s all anyone can ask. But if her nomination get tangled up in politics — already there are rumblings that it could get snagged in the debate over immigration reform — all sides will lose.
Republicans will get stuck with a longer tenure by Attorney Gen. Holder, whom they don’t trust but who has promised to stay until a replacement is approved. And the public will lose a strong, nonpolitical figure to lead the Department of Justice at a time when Americans want effective, bipartisan government in the nation’s capital.