WASHINGTON -- Longtime New York federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch won a long-delayed but historic confirmation by the Senate Thursday as the first African-American woman to serve as U.S. attorney general.
Lynch, approved by a bipartisan 56-43 vote, will take over the post as the nation's top law enforcement official after serving her second stint as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which includes Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island. She will be sworn in Monday.
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President Barack Obama hailed his choice to lead the Department of Justice through a wide range of complex issues that the nation will face over the remainder of his term.
"She will bring to bear her experience as a tough, independent, and well-respected prosecutor on key, bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform," Obama said. "And she will build on our progress in combating newer threats like cybercrime."
Lynch also made history Thursday as the first nominee for attorney general to face a filibuster, which the Senate broke with a 66-34 vote Thursday morning that drew 20 Republicans and allowed the final vote.
Lynch's confirmation as the 83rd attorney general won praise from Democrats, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio; activists such as the Rev. Al Sharpton; law enforcement groups, including the FBI Agents Association, and New York Police Commissioner William Bratton.
Noting that Lynch's father grew up in the segregated South and her mother as a child picked cotton, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, "If there is an American success story, Loretta Lynch is it."
Lynch, 55, a graduate of Harvard's college and law school, will replace Eric Holder, the first black attorney general, who won praise from Democrats but clashed repeatedly with Republicans.
Improving relations with the GOP-controlled House and Senate will be an important challenge, said Carl Tobias, a professor at University of Richmond School of Law.
"A lot of the hot-button issues that President Obama is going to deal with as his administration comes to a close are ones where's she's going to be on the point," Tobias said.
Issues she'll face include Obama's immigration initiatives, a renewal of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act, tensions in police-community relations and threats of homegrown terrorism.
During debate Thursday, many Republicans questioned Lynch's independence from Obama after she testified in her hearing that she found the legal reasoning behind his immigration executive order to be "reasonable."
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) called Obama's order unconstitutional and an overreach. He urged a no vote on Lynch.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who is eyeing a run for the presidency, called the Obama administration "lawless" and Lynch a facilitator. He voted against ending the filibuster and was the only one not to vote on the nomination.
But 10 Republican senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and all 46 members of the Democratic caucus voted for her confirmation.
Democrats repeatedly criticized the nearly six-month delay Lynch faced since being nominated on Nov. 8. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said, "What should have been a quick confirmation was anything but that."
About Loretta Lynch
Name: Loretta Elizabeth Lynch Hargrove, known professionally as Loretta Lynch
Born: May 21, 1959 in Greensboro, N.C.
Family: Married Stephen Hargrove in 2007, and has two stepchildren.
Experience: U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (which includes Long Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island), May 3, 2010 - current; partner, Hogan & Hartson LLP (now Hogan Lovells), January 2002 - May 2010; U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, July 1999 - May 2001; assistant U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of New York, March 1990 - July 1999; litigation associate, Cahill Gordon & Reindel, New York, September 1984 - February 1990
Education: Harvard College, A.B. cum laude in English and American Literature, June 1981; Harvard Law School, J.D., June 1984