President Obama has nominated Loretta Lynch, currently U.S. Attorney for a district that includes Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General. Based on readily available public information, she seems like a reasonable choice. I don’t see any obvious signs of radicalism or hyper-partisanship in her CV, although that may change as she undergoes more scrutiny. For the moment, the only black mark against her is that she was selected by the same guy who thought Eric Holder did a fine job.
Her confirmation hearing represents an opportunity for Republicans, so the first question is, when will it be held? Obama says he wants her confirmed “promptly.” No doubt! Pat Leahy–speaking of hyper-partisans–will run the Judiciary Committee until January, when the Republicans, led by Charles Grassley, will take over. Mitch McConnell said today that he thinks confirmation should be addressed by the new congress, following “regular order.” I don’t see how he can bring that about, however. Maybe I am missing some procedural wrinkle, but I would think the Democrats will be able to expedite her hearing and get her confirmed during the lame duck session.
But Republicans will still be able to ask questions, and there are many important ones to be posed. Eric Holder politicized the Department of Justice to a degree that has not been seen in our modern history, if ever. Holder appointed Lynch to the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee in 2010, and she has served as Chairman of that committee since 2013. Maybe the Advisory Committee is merely an honorary appointment. But Republicans should ask what input she has had over the last four years. Has she given advice to Holder on policy matters? Has the Advisory Committee been involved in any of Holder’s many controversies? Did Lynch ever try to dissuade Holder from his partisan misuse of DOJ? This seems like an important avenue of investigation.
Beyond that, Republicans should be able to wring some assurances from Ms. Lynch. Holder has disgracefully stonewalled Congressional investigators trying to get to the bottom of the Fast and Furious scandal for years. Will Lynch promise to stop the stonewalling and give Congressional investigators the materials–the remarkably limited materials–they are asking for?
Eric Holder has also been notorious for racial favoritism. He has addressed voting rights issues, for example, only where blacks have ostensibly been aggrieved. His dismissal of charges against the New Black Panthers–after they had already defaulted in DOJ’s action against them!–is the most famous, but by no means the only such instance. Republicans should extract a promise from Lynch to enforce the laws equally as to all races, and not favor her own race as Holder did.
Eric Holder also carried on a vicious campaign in favor of voter fraud. He aggressively persecuted states that took even the most modest measures to protect ballot integrity. Will Lynch do the same, or will she declare herself opposed to voter fraud?
Then of course there is immigration. The Obama administration intends to repeal various aspects of our immigration laws by executive decree, a move that is plainly unconstitutional. Obama presumably intends to seek some sort of legal comfort from DOJ. So Lynch should be questioned as to her views on the power of the executive to repeal or amend laws under the guise of “prosecutorial discretion.” Here is a question I would like to see asked: if President Obama can declare that henceforth, various immigration laws will not be enforced, could a future Republican president put the EPA out of business by declaring that no federal environmental laws will be enforced, thereby remitting environmental matters to the states? Or how about civil rights laws: could a future president suspend all civil rights enforcement–or, let’s be generous, suppose he just suspends some civil rights enforcement, i.e., the portions of the laws that he happens not to like–by executive decree? Isn’t there something in Article II about faithfully executing the laws? That would be a very interesting, and long overdue, conversation.
Having had that conversation, if Loretta Lynch won’t commit to complying with and impartially enforcing the laws, she should not be confirmed.