Letitia James has been sworn in as New York’s attorney general, becoming the first black woman to hold statewide office. She is also the first woman to be elected to attorney general, and the first African American to hold the position.
The 60-year-old Democrat took the oath of office in Albany just before midnight on Monday, Dec. 31, and participated in an inauguration ceremony with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli on Ellis Island on Tuesday, Jan. 1.
Below is a transcript of James’ remarks at the Ellis Island ceremony.
Allow me to take a moment to congratulate Governor Cuomo, Comptroller DiNapoli, Lieutenant Governor Hochul, and to recognize all the dignitaries here today.
And a special recognition to Barbara Underwood, who took the mantle of this great position, and in a short period of time, battled giants on our behalf. We are all grateful to her.
It is my profound honor to stand before you today, and pledge my service to you, the people of the great state of New York, as your Attorney General.
Like so many, I come from humble—but determined—beginnings. My parents came from Southern backgrounds, raising their children in New York City in order to give us all a chance at a better life. They weren’t privileged, but they were blessed. And I imagine they would be very proud to see me here today.
We stand today on hallowed ground. Blessed with the sacrifice of resisters who refused to bow to traditional rule; seeded with the dreams of millions of Americans, refugees leaving their nations of birth for a brighter future under the torch of Lady Liberty; as well as those like my parents, who simply saw their destiny and seized their shot at the American Dream.
Unfortunately, today many Americans find that dream slipping from their reach.
The rights and dignity of everyday people are being trampled by the most powerful among us.
We see powerful corporations who act like they are above the law.
We see profiteers and politicians risking the hard-earned security of working people in the pursuit of greater wealth and power.
We see corruption eating away at the bedrock of our society, and too often, we feel powerless to respond.
But today, we take that power back. Today, we respond.
I believe in the rule of law and democracy and the expectation that in the eyes of government, you shall be treated no worse than your neighbor on the right and no better than your neighbor on the left.
I will work in a legal system where even the most powerful federal official in the country cannot use a loophole to evade justice.
I will fight for a law that codifies a woman’s right to choose and defends our reproductive freedoms.
I will crack down on government officials who abuse the public trust.
I will take on corporations that pollute our air and water, that defraud taxpayers, and harm consumers.
I will protect the rights of women, immigrants, LGBTQ communities, communities of color, and anyone targeted by the wrath of bigotry.
I will focus on working with the state Legislature to reform a broken criminal justice system and ensure that young black and brown children are not held back by a system that is stacked against them.
And I will shine a light into the murkiest of swamps, and act as a steward of justice for every New Yorker.
Leaders worth their salt are here to protect those who are vulnerable and seek justice on their behalf — and that is a promise I make to each and every one of you.
To New York’s teachers and nurses, preachers and parents, firefighters and police, soldiers and factory workers. From Buffalo to the Bronx. From Rochester to Riverhead, I am here to promote meaningful change, to keep our families safe and moving forward, and to advance justice at every turn.
And I will keep you and your community held firmly in my heart and mind as I walk into work every day.
Guided by the principles of Micah to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly in the company of God.”
And to those who aim to test or break the law on our watch, to challenge the dignity and security of our great state and its people, you have a new opponent. And you better believe that I am battle tested.
Thank you so much for this great honor. And the opportunity to humbly serve each of my fellow New Yorkers.
Now, let’s get to work.
Thank you and Happy New Year.