- Served as a U.S. Attorney under Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama
- Believes that the American criminal-justice system is rife with discrimination against nonwhite minorities
- Favors the use of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders
- Supports the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons who have completed their prison sentences
Loretta Lynch was born in 1959 in Greensboro, North Carolina. In 1981 she earned an A.B. from Harvard College, where she was an original member of Delta Sigma Theta, a newly formed African-American sorority chapter; another noteworthy original member was Sharon Malone, who subsequently went on to marry Eric Holder.
After completing her undergraduate studies, Lynch in 1984 earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she was a member of the Black Law Student Association. From 1984-90 she was a litigation associate for the New York-based firm of Cahill, Gordon & Reindel.
In 1989 Lynch donated $550 to the New York City mayoral campaign of Democrat David Dinkins, who defeated both the incumbent Ed Koch (in a five-way Democratic primary) and Republican challenger Rudolph Giuliani (in the general election).
From 1990-2001, Lynch worked in various capacities for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. In 1999 President Bill Clinton appointed her as U.S. Attorney for that District, a position she held until the end of the Clinton administration in January 2001.
In 2000, Lynch was a member of the trial team in the highly publicized United States v. Volpe civil-rights case against a New York City police officer who had brutalized a black Haitian immigrant named Abner Louima. Also during her years in the U.S. Attorney’s office, Lynch was a frequent instructor in the Justice Department’s Criminal Trial Advocacy Program, and she worked as an adjunct professor at the St. John’s University School of Law during the fall 2000 semester.
From October 1994 to January 1998, Lynch was a partner with the Connecticut-based Ujamaa Investment Group. “Ujamaa” is a Swahili term signifying a commitment to the practice of “shared wealth” and a repudiation of economic inequality.
Lynch has long opposed capital punishment because of its alleged bias against blacks and Hispanics. “Apply the death penalty to securities fraud prosecutions [committed mostly by whites] and [you’ll] wipe out [the racial disparity] just like that,” she said sarcastically during a 2002 roundtable discussion. But when the defendants of certain crimes are mostly poor and minority, she charged, “you don’t have anybody there on the floor of Congress saying, ‘Wait a minute.’”
By Lynch’s reckoning, capital punishment would be immoral even if it were applied without any racial bias at all—because of the disparate impact it would continue to have on nonwhites, who commit homicides (i.e., the crimes subject to the death penalty) at much higher rates than whites: “That, to me, has always been the problem with the death penalty. Because you can be as fair as possible in a particular case, but the reality is that the federal death penalty is still going to hit harder on certain groups.”
In 2002 Lynch began an eight-year stint as a partner with the New York law firm of Hogan & Hartson, where her practice focused on commercial litigation, white-collar criminal defense, and corporate compliance issues. From 2003-05 she served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In 2008 Lynch initially supported Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign. But after Mrs. Clinton was defeated in the Democratic primaries by Barack Obama, Lynch donated a combined $9,200 to Obama For America (later known as Organizing For America and Organizing For Action) and the Obama Victory Fund.
In May 2010, President Obama appointed Lynch to the same post she had held towards the end of the Clinton administration—U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. In that capacity, she was responsible for overseeing all federal and civil investigations and cases in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, as well as Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island.
During her four-and-a-half years as U.S. Attorney, Lynch developed a close relationship with Attorney General Eric Holder. In early 2013 she was named chair of Holder’s advisory committee, and she collaborated with the AG in a high-profile Justice Department investigation that ultimately (in July 2014) forced Citigroup to pay a $7 billion fine for having helped trigger the financial crisis of 2008. Specifically, Citigroup was charged with: (a) making mortgage loans that had material defects and a high probability of default, and (b) securitizing and selling pools of these defective loans to investors. Said Lynch: “[A]fter collecting nearly 25 million documents relating to every residential mortgage-backed security issued or underwritten by Citigroup in 2006 and 2007, our teams found that the misconduct in Citigroup’s deals devastated the nation and the world’s economies, touching everyone.” By contrast, Lynch made no mention of the various government policies—most notably the Community Reinvestment Act—which, in the name of social and economic justice, had required banks to knowingly lend money to underqualified borrowers, particularly nonwhite minorities.
During a 2013 speech which she delivered at the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, New York, Lynch asked the young people in the audience: “What is it that makes you feel oppressed? Is it the prison of racism?”
Lynch believes that voter ID laws are part of a racist effort to suppress minority turnout at the polls. “Fifty years after the civil rights movement,” she said in 2013, “we stand in this country at a time when we see people trying to take back so much of what Dr. [Martin Luther] King fought for…. People try and take over the State House and reverse the goals [gains] that have been made in voting in this country.” In line with this view, Lynch emphasized that she was “proud” of the Justice Department for having filed suit against North Carolina’s voter ID laws that “seek to limit our ability to stand up and exercise our rights as citizens.”
Lynch has also suggested that school discipline policies, which result in higher rates of suspension and expulsion for nonwhite children than for whites, are racist. “The dream is still continuing not only in the courts but in our schools,” she told a mostly black audience in 2013. “And we all know, education is the key. And we understand that discipline is important. We understand that rules are important, but we also know that when we sit and look at schools that have these zero-tolerance programs, they are often used, and they take our babies, minority children, black children, Hispanic children, and they put them out of school before they have a chance to learn.” Building on this theme, Lynch praised the Department of Justice for having “gone into the South, although we’re looking further, and brought the first … ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ cases against school districts in Alabama.”
In April 2014 Lynch participated in a panel titled “Strengthening the Relationship Between Law Enforcement and Communities of Color,” along with such notables as Eric Holder, Al Sharpton, and Bill de Blasio. One of the panel’s action items stated: “Remember that racial bias is pervasive. Research has shown that people who are not consciously mistrustful of African Americans or intentionally racist can still behave in a way that is influenced by racial bias.”
In August 2014 Lynch spoke about the need to “eliminate,” from the American criminal-justice system, all forms of “racial discrimination” against “the most vulnerable members of society.” She stated that she and Eric Holder were focused “not just on the prosecution of crime, but on eradicating its root causes as well as providing support for those re-entering society after having paid their debt to it.” Lamenting that the U.S. “currently … imprisons approximately 2.2 million people” who are “disproportionately people of color,” Lynch emphasized the need to “reform … this aspect of our criminal justice system,” which she described as a “drain on both precious resources and human capital.”
Lynch contends that “stringent mandatory minimum sentences for certain federal drug crimes” should be “reserved [only] for the most serious criminals”—on the premise that, “quite often, less prison can also work to reduce crime.” Advocating the implementation of “alternative programs in place of incarceration,” she stresses the need to “provid[e] formerly incarcerated people with fair opportunities to rejoin their communities and become productive, law-abiding citizens”; to “restore voting rights to those who have served their debt to society, thus ending the chain of permanent disenfranchisement that visits many of them”; and to “identify [and eliminate] policies that result in unwarranted disparities within criminal justice.” Vis à vis the latter, Lynch has supported “the expansion of the federal clemency program,” “the retroactive reduction of penalties for non-violent drug offenders,” and “the reduction in the sentencing disparity” between crimes involving crack cocaine (a drug most often used by poor blacks) and powder cocaine (whose users are typically more-affluent whites.
On November 8, 2014, President Obama nominated Lynch to succeed Eric Holder, who had recently announced his intent to step down from the post of attorney general.
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