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Editorial: Don't turn attorney general confirmation into immigration fight

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch announces the indictment of

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch announces the indictment of State Senator John Sampson charged with embezzlement and obstruction of justice on May 6, 2013 in Brooklyn. Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

By nominating Loretta Lynch for U.S. attorney general, President Barack Obama has given the new Republican Senate majority an opportunity to avoid picking a partisan fight. The GOP should seize it.

In two stints as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District -- encompassing Long Island and parts of New York City -- Lynch has proved herself a tough, effective career prosecutor who, barring unexpected revelations, is eminently qualified. In 15 years as a federal prosecutor, the Harvard-educated lawyer has handled terrorism, civil rights and public corruption cases. By appointing the low-key, twice-confirmed, nonpolitical professional, Obama has offered Republicans the chance to get their fragile relationship off to a pragmatic start.

In that same spirit, they need to quickly agree on the next U.S. attorney for our area. The office needs a strong hand to guide the probe of political corruption on Long Island, and the tax fraud prosecution of Rep. Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island).

But rather than simply debate Lynch's qualifications, Republicans have signaled they'll turn her confirmation into a proxy war over the president's power to bypass Congress on immigration.

If House Republicans continue to block a vote on an immigration reform bill, Obama will likely use executive orders to allow some people here illegally to remain and work. That's sure to ignite a constitutional crisis and boil the bad blood between the two parties. Exploring Lynch's analysis of the legality of such presidential action would be appropriate. But expecting her to break ranks with Obama in any way would be unrealistic and shouldn't be the bar for confirmation.

The GOP and Obama need to resolve their fight over immigration without making collateral damage of a superb nominee for attorney general.