Loretta Lynch. (Photo: Rick Kopstein/ALM)
Since Loretta Lynch’s nomination on Nov. 8 for attorney general, the Senate Judiciary Committee has received only nine letters supporting her—a volume that starkly contrasts with the outpouring Eric Holder Jr. inspired six years ago.
That may not be a bad start for a nominee whose Senate hearings are scheduled to begin on Jan. 28. But by the time Holder’s confirmation hearings began on Jan. 15, 2009, the committee had received more than 100 letters from law enforcement, victims’ rights and civil rights organizations—among other groups and individuals—weighing in on Holder’s fitness for the job.
A former White House lawyer who worked on previous Obama administration nominations told the NLJ that the dearth of formal submissions concerning Lynch is less about a lack of enthusiasm for her than the fact her work in the law hasn’t generated sharp, easily defined divisions on Capitol Hill.
Lynch’s critics so far haven’t pointed to any particular moment in her career that raises questions about her fitness to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Indeed, some Republicans intend to challenge Lynch as a proxy for the Obama administration at large—with a focus on the president’s executive action on immigration.
That setup was by design, said Jamie Gorelick, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington who served as deputy attorney general from 1994 to 1997.
“This is not unlike what happens at the end of administrations,” Gorelick told the NLJ this week. “What the president needed in this setting was a career prosecutor, which Loretta Lynch is, who knows the department very well, who has not been active on many of the hot-button issues.”
Lynch’s public support, so far, represents a cross-section of federal prosecutors, district attorneys, in-house corporate attorneys, African-American lawmakers and law enforcement officers. She has the formal support of general counsel at Alcoa Inc. and Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Officers, the Federal Bar Council, the Congressional Black Caucus and the National District Attorneys Association.
The Judiciary Committee on Thursday released a letter from Hogan Lovells, where Lynch was formerly a white-collar partner. Hogan CEO Stephen Immelt was among the lawyers who signed the letter, dated Jan. 15. The Hogan lawyers urged the committee to approve Lynch’s nomination.
Other groups, however, have kept mum. The National Women’s Law Center, for instance, is not commenting publicly on Lynch’s nomination. The group “decided it would be most effective to keep the advocacy at the community level,” its media director, Melanie Boyer, told the NLJ.
Thomas Fitton of the conservative Judicial Watch said, “We’re not thrilled about Ms. Lynch, but I don’t know if we’re going to oppose her officially.”
Judicial Watch and the National Women’s Law Center submitted letters for the record addressing Holder’s nomination six years ago.
Holder’s supporters went to the mat for him in 2009 in part because conservative groups questioned his fitness for office. Holder, who joined the Justice Department from Covington & Burling, drew criticism over for his role in President Clinton’s pardon of billionaire fugitive Marc Rich and commuting the sentences of Puerto Rican separatists. Gun-rights advocates wrote letters opposing Holder’s nomination. He would become the country’s first black attorney general.
From almost as soon as Obama nominated Lynch, some Senate Republicans signaled they wouldn’t stand in her way. In November, for example, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Lynch “looks good to me.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called her a “solid choice.”
That does not mean there won’t be opposition to Lynch’s confirmation. The difference between 2009 and 2015 in the political climate and the Senate’s composition— now with the Republicans in control—may mean Lynch will be confirmed by a narrower margin than Holder’s 75-21 tally, which included 19 Republican “yea” votes.
“The pattern of recent confirmations has been that nominees will get just enough to get through,” Gorelick said.
Gun Owners of America intends to voice its concerns to the judiciary committee for those senators looking for reasons to vote “no” against Lynch. In a proposed letter, the group said Lynch has “no real paper trail.” The letter tied her to justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, as well as to Holder, each of whom the Gun Owners of America calls “a committed anti-gun radical.”
“She’s kind of like Eric Holder in a skirt,” organization president Larry Pratt told the NLJ.
Although Lynch has made her name as a longtime prosecutor, Pratt’s letter highlights sustained criticism of Holder as an activist attorney general.
“I don’t think you’re going to see the impassioned debate you might otherwise have seen with a different nominee,” Gorelick said. One would-be pick for attorney general—Thomas Perez, the DOJ’s former Civil Rights Division head who’s now labor secretary—drew swift criticism from conservatives. Judicial Watch’s Fitton said in September about Perez as a possible attorney general pick: “[He] fits all the qualities that Eric Holder had: A lack of ethics, disrespect for the rule of the law and placing ideology first.”
Lynch’s confirmation hearing dates were announced Friday evening. Gorelick said she anticipates more letters in support will arrive on Capitol Hill this week.
Whatever the total letter count, the first supporters out of the gates were Lynch’s local allies in New York— those who have held her current job as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York and her state-level counterparts in district attorneys’ offices who have worked with her.
“I can’t speak to the history of these letters or whether or not a certain number of them says one thing or another,” said freshman Rep. Kathleen Rice, who submitted her letter on Nov. 17 while still serving as Nassau County, N.Y., district attorney. “All I can say is that I’ve worked with her well and I think she’d make a great attorney general, so I felt it was important to make that known.”
Update: This story was updated after the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday published a new letter addressing Lynch’s nomination.