Meet Loretta Lynch: ‘Steel Wrapped in Velvet’
Policy + Politics

Meet Loretta Lynch: ‘Steel Wrapped in Velvet’

After five months of having her nomination held hostage to political gamesmanship on Capitol Hill, no-nonsense Brooklyn prosecutor Loretta Lynch is on her way to becoming the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General. 

On Tuesday, after Republicans spent months blocking Lynch from replacing Eric Holder in the top spot at the Justice Dept. because of a human trafficking bill that allowed abortions to be paid from restitution funds, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced that a confirmation vote would be held “hopefully in the next day or so.” 

Related: Deal Set to Confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General 

Turning the nomination of 55-year-old Lynch into a political football did not sit well with a number of Republicans, especially since she is hardly a polarizing figure. 

Her reputation as a tough federal prosecutor has won her plaudits from Republicans and Democrats alike. While serving as a U.S. attorney in two presidential administrations, Lynch tackled more high-stakes terrorism cases than any other federal prosecutor. Among her most notable victories was the prosecution of Quazi Mohammad Rezwanul Ahsan Nafis, a Bangladeshi convicted in October 2012 of attempting to blow up the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He was sentenced to 30 years to life. 

She has also been tough on political corruption, as former Representative Michael Grimm knows well. The Staten Island, NY Republican and ex-FBI agent was indicted on 20 counts of fraud, perjury and obstruction of justice last spring and pled guilty to felony tax evasion. He faces up to three years in prison when he is sentenced in June. 

Related: More Weak Justice from Eric Holder 

Despite all of her work with national implications, Lynch keeps somewhat of a low public profile. In an interview with NPR earlier this year, Lynch’s friend and former Justice Department colleague Robert Raben spoke of her popularity and likability. 

"There are plenty of people who don't like her," Raben says. "They happen to be incarcerated." 

Lynch was born in Greensboro, NC, in 1959, the middle child of three siblings born to a librarian mother and Baptist minister father. She grew up going to civil rights rallies with her parents and has attributed her early interest in the legal system to watching her grandfather, a pastor, help people escape persecution while Jim Crow laws were still in effect, according to The Network Journal. 

As a young girl in Durham, she excelled academically and was valedictorian of her high school class. She then went on to Harvard College as an English major and eventually graduated from Harvard Law School in 1984. 

Immediately after graduation, Lynch joined the white-shoe New York corporate law firm Cahill Gordon & Reindel where she served as a litigation associate. She worked there for several years before taking a 75 percent pay cut to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York as a drug and violent-crime prosecutor. 

President Bill Clinton nominated Lynch to head that office in 1999. There, she oversaw the infamous Abner Louima case, prosecuting New York police officers for brutality. 

She went back to corporate law in 2001 and was named partner at Hogan & Hartson until 2010 when President Obama nominated her to serve once again as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District. 

Throughout her tenure, she has built a reputation as a prosecutor not to be underestimated. 

"They expect a certain amount of leniency or mercy from me because I'm a woman, and if you've ever met my mother, you should know that's not even in the cards," Lynch told an audience at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2012. 

Related: Senate Panel Backs Loretta Lynch as Attorney General 

“Loretta is steel wrapped in velvet, incredibly tough with a diplomatic touch,”  former associate attorney general Tony West told The Washington Post earlier this year. 

Still, the Lynch nomination has faced pushback from Republican senators who questioned how she would interpret executive actions taken by the Obama administration on immigration reform. 

In March, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) vowed to vote against her confirmation. “Senator McCain is voting against Lynch for one reason: her stated approval of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration, which McCain believes are clearly unconstitutional," McCain’s spokesman Brian Rogers told The New York Daily News. 

Still, she will likely be confirmed and has the support of Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Susan Collins (R-ME) on top of all 46 Senate Democrats who are expected to approve her appointment. 

If the Senate confirms Lynch, who has two stepchildren, she will not only make history as the first African-American woman to head Justice but she will also be the first AG who is also a mom. 

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