03.02.15

Leahy Calls On Senate To Confirm Historic Nominee For Attorney General

WASHINGTON (Monday, March 2, 2015) – This week marks the 50th anniversary of the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, an historic moment in the civil rights movement that prompted bipartisan action in Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act. In a floor statement Monday, Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) urged Senators to come together in that same spirit and confirm Loretta Lynch to be the next attorney general of the United States.

Once confirmed, Lynch will be the first African American woman to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. Her nomination has broad support from civil rights groups, law enforcement, fellow prosecutors, and legal practitioners. The Judiciary Committee reported her nomination on a bipartisan vote last week, and she has been pending longer than any other nominee to be attorney general in recent history.

In a floor statement, Leahy said it is time for the Senate to come together and confirm this historic nominee.

“When Ms. Lynch is told that she must continue to wait for her confirmation vote, I am reminded that those dedicated to the fight for civil rights have long heard their detractors tell them to just be patient.  To just wait their turn,” Leahy said, adding that “It should not be too much to ask how much longer Loretta Lynch will be made to wait before she can become the next United States Attorney General.”

“Our Nation deserves to have its chief law enforcement officer considered without further delay,” he said. “I call on the Majority Leader to simply set a date for her confirmation.  Do not leave the American people wondering if this extremely qualified woman will get a timely vote.  Treat her like every previous Attorney General nominee.  Our Nation faces too many challenges to play politics with this important nomination.”

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Nomination of Loretta Lynch
to Serve as Attorney General of the United States
March 2, 2015

This weekend we will mark the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.  At this historic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge five decades ago, scores of courageous Americans refused to be silent about the need for equal protection under the law.  Their blood, sweat, and tears helped move our Nation toward a more perfect union.  One of those who shed blood and marched for freedom and equality was my dear friend, Congressman John Lewis of Georgia. 

Last Thursday, Congressman Lewis came to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room to witness the vote on the historic nomination of Loretta Lynch to serve as our next Attorney General.  He was compelled to come because this was no ordinary mark up.  And this is no ordinary confirmation.  When the Senate finally confirms her, Loretta Lynch will be the first African American woman to serve our country as Attorney General. 

Ms. Lynch is extraordinarily qualified for the job, and I urge the Senate to consider her nomination immediately and confirm her this week.  As I do so, I cannot help but reflect on the fact that Ms. Lynch’s confirmation will be another step towards realizing Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream that people in our country would be judged by the content of their character.  Loretta Lynch’s life epitomizes that dream. 

Born in Greensboro and raised in Durham, North Carolina, Loretta Lynch is the daughter of a fourth-generation Baptist preacher and a school librarian.  They instilled in her the American values of fairness and equality, even when those around them were not living up to those values.  Ms. Lynch has spoken about riding on her father’s shoulders to their church where students organized peaceful protests against racial segregation.  The freedom songs and the church music that went hand in hand with those protests undoubtedly made up the soundtrack of her childhood.  The Judiciary Committee was honored to have her father, Reverend Lorenzo Lynch, with us not only at both days of her historic hearings in January but also with us last Thursday as the Committee considered his daughter’s nomination.  

Throughout Loretta Lynch’s life, those who encountered her intelligence and tenacity have not always been prepared to accept her and her impressive accomplishments.  Each time, the content of her character has shone through and led her to even greater heights. 

In elementary school, administrators did not believe that Loretta Lynch could score as high as she did on a standardized test and demanded that she retake the test.  Loretta Lynch retook the test – and scored even higher.  In high school, she rose to the very top of her class, which would have made her the first African American valedictorian.  School administrators, however, decided that her having that title – which she earned – would be somehow too controversial.  They decided that Ms. Lynch would share the honor with two other students, one of whom was white.  This slight would not hold her back as she went on to graduate with honors from Harvard College and thereafter earn her law degree from Harvard Law School. 

This has been the story of Loretta Lynch’s life.  While some are not ready to embrace her distinction, she marches forward with grace to prove that she is even stronger and more qualified than her detractors could imagine.  She has dedicated the majority of her remarkable career to public service and we are fortunate as a nation that she wants to continue to serve.

The President of the United States announced that Loretta Lynch would be nominated to be our nation’s chief law enforcement official on November 8th.  Right after this announcement, Senate Republicans made clear that despite the urgent challenges facing this country, they would object to even begin consideration of her nomination during the lame duck period.  So Loretta Lynch’s historic nomination waited.  As she prepared for her confirmation hearing, she stayed focused on her current position and continued to lead a dedicated team of prosecutors to bring terrorists and serious criminals to justice in New York. 

Ms. Lynch was finally called before the Judiciary Committee at the end of January.  She had more poise and credibility than any nominee I have seen in my four decades in the Senate.  Any reasonable observer of her hearing, which lasted almost eight hours, would conclude that she was beyond impressive and that she possesses the leadership, intellect, and wisdom needed to help keep our country safe.  After the hearings, Republicans submitted an unprecedented number of written questions to Ms. Lynch, even though every member had been allowed ample time to ask live questions at her hearing.  Even members who had already publicly declared that they opposed her confirmation continued to submit scores of questions.

One hundred and fourteen days have passed since Ms. Lynch was nominated.  She has been made to wait longer than any one of the previous five Attorneys General.  And for what reason?  So that those who have already said they oppose her nomination can try to score additional political points?  When Ms. Lynch is told that she must continue to wait for her confirmation vote, I am reminded that those dedicated to the fight for civil rights have long heard their detractors tell them to just be patient.  To just wait their turn. 

Ms. Lynch grew up hearing her family’s stories about the Jim Crow South.  She knows the meaning of injustice.  She would never compare the partisan political games being played with her nomination to the epic struggles her family faced.  But as we in this chamber reflect this week to honor those Americans who marched in Selma, and the role that our Department of Justice played in the civil rights movement, it should not be too much to ask how much longer Loretta Lynch will be made to wait before she can become the next United States Attorney General.  Our Nation deserves to have its chief law enforcement officer considered without further delay.

At the Judiciary Committee’s markup last week, Senator Durbin spoke passionately about the “solemn, important, and historic moment” before us in considering Ms. Lynch’s nomination. His comments were moving, and they appealed to our responsibility as Senators to uphold the Constitution and provide advice and consent on the president’s nominees. We can do so this week by confirming Loretta Lynch.

We have played politics with too many things already in the young days of this 114th Congress.  From the spending bill House Republicans refuse to take up to fund the Department of Homeland Security, to the nomination of this highly qualified woman to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, we can no longer put national security at risk for the sake of a few talking points.  I call on the Majority Leader to simply set a date for her confirmation.  Do not leave the American people wondering if this extremely qualified woman will get a timely vote.  Treat her like every previous Attorney General nominee.  Our Nation faces too many challenges to play politics with this important nomination. 

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