By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Richard Cowan
The US Senate voted on Thursday to approve Loretta Lynch as President Barack Obama’s next attorney general, ending a five-month deadlock that made Lynch wait longer for confirmation than the last seven attorneys general combined.
The first black woman to become the top US law enforcement official, Lynch, 55, was approved by a 56-43 vote. Ten Republicans voted for Lynch, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She is expected to take over as head of the US Justice Department on Monday, replacing Eric Holder.
The voting margin reflected many Republicans’ disapproval of Lynch’s support for an executive order issued by Obama in November that was meant to shield millions of undocumented immigrants from the threat of deportation.
Before the vote, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions, an outspoken critic of that action, blasted Lynch.
“We do not have to confirm someone to the highest law enforcement position in America if that someone is publicly committed to denigrating Congress, violating law,” he said.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid berated Republicans for delaying the confirmation and said Lynch was “as qualified a candidate” as he’d seen in almost 30 years in the Senate.
Lynch has awaited confirmation since November when Obama, a fellow Harvard Law School graduate, nominated her.
Despite the delay, she was widely seen as less controversial than Holder, who often clashed with Republicans. She has said she aims to smooth relations with Congress.
As attorney general, her earliest tests will likely include handling civil rights cases stemming from deadly altercations between police and unarmed black men in several US cities. The Justice Department has said it will look into bringing civil rights charges over the death of a Baltimore man who died after sustaining a spinal cord injury while in police custody.
Lynch will also inherit major financial cases involving allegations that some of the world’s largest banks helped clients evade US taxes and manipulated the currency markets.
Her nomination was backed by the Senate’s Judiciary Committee by a vote of 12-8 on Feb. 26. But her confirmation languished over an impasse in the Republican-led Senate on an unrelated bill meant to protect human trafficking victims.
Democrats had balked at an anti-abortion provision included in that bill, but that dispute was settled on Tuesday and the bill was approved on Wednesday.
An accomplished career prosecutor, Lynch has twice served as US attorney in Brooklyn, New York, most recently since 2010. Her office there handled more terrorism prosecutions than most other offices in the United States. For two years, she also led a committee that advised the attorney general on policy.
At a Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 28, Lynch said that her top priorities would include fighting terrorist threats and cyber crime, and improving relations between law enforcement and minority communities.