In the opening statement of her U.S. Senate Confirmation hearing, Attorney General-nominee Loretta Lynch spoke of many things -- her mother’s struggle for a college education, her father’s principles as a Baptist preacher, her work as an attorney, and her drive to bring justice to criminals and victims. Lynch’s autobiographic presentation was eloquent; “excellent and powerful” as Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham gushed. Were her confirmation based solely on the caliber of her personal story, Obama’s nominee would be a shoo-in.
But is a moving self-portrayal, honest as it might be, all it takes to be confirmed as the most important law enforcement official in the United States? Should it be? Is an outstanding record as an attorney sufficient to qualify a man or woman to serve as Attorney General? Or is there more to it?
It is axiomatic that the Attorney General of the United States is the top lawyer in the country. The occupant of that office is responsible for the thousands of attorneys within the Department of Justice and the 94 U.S. Attorney offices across the country. In addition, the Attorney General oversees the FBI, the DEA, and numerous other federal investigative and police agencies. It is a powerful post, and the person who sits atop that department is far more than just the nation’s top lawyer.
The Attorney General opines officially on questions involving the very constitutionality of actions undertaken – or not undertaken – by the President and top officials throughout the Executive Branch. He or she can provide a golden “get out of jail free” card to federal officials who have undertaken, or propose to undertake actions of questionable legality or constitutionality; making it difficult if not impossible for those individuals subsequently to be prosecuted for violating the law.
Unique among all cabinet officers, the Attorney General of the United States sets a tone of respect for, or disrespect of, the rule of law by the President he or she serves. The policies thus established either keep America on a Constitutional Road or, as with the current Administration, move us to a constitutional detour.
In a very real sense, this is what was so disturbing in Lynch’s initial confirmation hearing -- the way in which she so easily defended Obama’s flouting and undermining of the laws as passed by the Congress. The fact that even as she claimed to be her own woman – “not Eric Holder” – Lynch was echoing Holder’s unswerving defense of everything Obama; including the President’s standing above the law.
Even though some of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee did mildly press Lynch on her views; as is typical for the manner in which the GOP handles controversial confirmations, those concerns took a back seat to playing verbal pat-a-cake with the nominee. For example,when Graham broached the topic of Lynch’s 2006 amicus brief supporting Planned Parenthood’s opposition to a partial-birth abortion ban, he stated naively, “[t]he only reason I mentioned that is that if there's a Republican president in the future, an attorney general nominee takes an opposite view on an issue like abortion, I hope our friends on the other side will acknowledge it's OK to be an advocate for a cause, as their lawyer.”
Graham’s gobbledygook reflects a mindset that political ramifications are more important than substance when considering a nominee’s suitability for high office. In this way, nominations move forward despite misgivings, simply to maintain a “senatorial” image. Advocates of this “happy face” strategy apparently hope to immunize the GOP from Democrats playing hardball with Republican nominees in the future. Unfortunately, no matter how many times they play this scenario out, the GOP comes out on the short end; and in this case, so will the country.
Regardless of how fine an attorney Lynch may be, and no matter how heart-warming is her personal story, Senators should base their vote on real substance -- whether she will uphold the law and the Constitution; whether she truly understands she represents the People of the United States and not the President who nominated her; and whether she fully and openly answers all questions put to her. On these three principles, from what we have seen thus far, this nominee falls short.
While some Republican may argue that confirming Lynch is preferable to leaving Holder in office; this is not the case. The two lawyers are cut from the same philosophical and political cloth. Moreover, as Attorney General, Lynch would possess something Holder does not -- that she would have been confirmed by a Republican Senate; thereby greatly strengthening her hand in the future, and placing her largely beyond their reach.