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Obama nominates Loretta Lynch for Attorney General

The White House announced today that President Obama will be nominating Loretta Lynch as the next US attorney general. Lynch, a 55-year-old Harvard Law school graduate, is currently the US Attorney for New York's Eastern District (headquartered in Brooklyn). If confirmed, she'd become the second woman and the second African-American to hold the post.

Who is Loretta Lynch?

Lynch is currently the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which includes three New York City boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island), as well as parts of others, and Long Island.

Lynch has been a prosecutor for most of her career. She started in the Eastern District office back in 1990. She was appointed by Bill Clinton to serve as the district's US Attorney in 1999, then left in 2001 for private practice. She returned to run the Eastern District in 2010.

Between her stints as US Attorney, Lynch served three years on the board of the New York Fed (from 2003 to 2005) and as an investigator for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, investigating crimes committed during the genocide there in 1994.

What do we know about Lynch's priorities?

Federal prosecutors have a lot of latitude in choosing which crimes to go after. So knowing what Lynch has focused on throughout her career, especially as a US Attorney, can give some clues as to what she might focus on as Attorney General.

White-collar crime and financial malfeasance. Current Attorney General Eric Holder has been criticized for not doing enough to prosecute banks and financial institutions for malfeasance in the wake of the mortgage and financial crisis of the late 2000s. Lynch, however, has made white-collar crime, including financial malfeasance, a focus of her career. Most recently, her office led a criminal investigation into Citigroup's sales of mortgage-backed securities, which led to a $7 billion settlement with the bank earlier this year.

Lynch has also paid consistent attention to public corruption. Back in the 1990s, she prosecuted a series of public officials in the Long Island town of Brookhaven. And earlier this year, she charged US Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) with fraud for allegedly hiding $1 million in restaurant earnings. (Grimm pled not guilty and was re-elected on November 4th.)

Police brutality. In 1997, New York police officers arrested and brutally assaulted Haitian immigrant Abner Louima, including raping Louima with a broom handle. Lynch led the federal prosecution of the officers. The lead assailant, Justin Volpe, was sentenced to 30 years on civil rights charges.

However, there's less evidence that Lynch has made police brutality a priority while running the Eastern District.

Will Lynch follow Holder's priorities?

Attorney General Holder has led the Department of Justice with clear priorities, including voting rights, sentencing and prison reform, and (especially recently) repairing police-community relations. But how much progress is made on any of these fronts will rest entirely on his successor.

That's especially true of voting rights. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down one of the major provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and Congress hasn't yet passed a revised version of the bill (and given Congressional inaction, it's not clear that it will). Now, instead of certain states having to get federal approval to make changes in voting law, it's the Department of Justice's job to sue states or localities for putting discriminatory laws on the books. The DOJ has been busy with these challenges — it succeeded in getting the US Supreme Court to temporarily block a voter ID law in Wisconsin before the midterm election, and tried (but failed) to get a similar law blocked in Texas — but will have to continue to put energy into new voting-rights suits if it's going to continue to be a priority.

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