Loretta Lynch has won Senate approval as U.S. attorney general and in doing so has become the first black woman to occupy the post.
The timing of the appointment comes as the country faces huge difficulties through deadly altercations between white police and unarmed black men which are not only hitting the headlines but leading to civil unrest and questions being asked of the legal system itself.
According to Reuters, the Senate confirmed Lynch by a vote of 56-43 to end a five-month partisan deadlock over her nomination by President Barack Obama. She had waited for a vote longer than the last seven attorneys general combined.
President Obama said that 55 year old, Lynch, U.S. attorney for Brooklyn, New York, had credibility with both law enforcement and the communities they police which would make her a very valuable source.
Obama told supporters from his Organizing for Action political group that he would work with her to rebuild trust so that everyone felt safe and that the law was working on everyone’s behalf, according to Reuters.
Lynch will be taking over the running of the Justice Department from Attorney General Eric Holder, and she is expected to face tests from the outset as she will be working on financial cases alleging some of the world’s largest banks helped clients evade U.S. taxes and manipulated currency markets.
The vote showed that ten Republicans voted for Lynch, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The tally in Lynch’s favour was larger than expected, which according to Reuters, perhaps reflecting political concerns. Of the Republicans who backed her, four are up for reelection next year, three of them from states with big cities that have large African-American populations.
It is highly likely that during her time as attorney general, that she will have to be confronted with civil rights cases stemming from police altercations in several U.S. cities. Only this week the Justice Department said it was gathering information to determine whether it can bring civil rights charges in the death of a man who died after being arrested by Baltimore police.
According to Reuters, the voting margin in the Senate reflected many Republicans’ disapproval of Lynch’s support for an executive order issued by Obama in November that was meant to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.
Before the vote, Alabama Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, a very public critic of Obama’s executive action on immigration, said about Lynch. “We do not have to confirm someone to the highest law enforcement position in America if that someone is publicly committed to denigrating Congress, violating law,” he said.