WASHINGTON — Loretta Lynch was sworn in Monday as the 83rd U.S. attorney general, the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Speaking before an audience of family members, Justice Department lawyers and supporters, Lynch said her confirmation as attorney general showed that “we can do anything” and pledged that the agency would “use justice as our compass” in confronting terrorism, cyberattacks and other threats facing the country.
“We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all. We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them,” Lynch said, an apparent reference to ongoing efforts to repair relations between police departments and the minority communities that they serve.
Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office to Lynch at a Justice Department ceremony, calling Lynch an “incredibly qualified” selection for the position. He said Lynch had shown grace during the months-long confirmation process, in which her nomination became caught up in Congress in a dispute over human trafficking legislation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s about time — it’s about time this woman is being sworn in,” Biden said to applause.
The 55-year-old Lynch was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday. She replaces Eric Holder, who left the position Friday after serving as attorney general for six years.
Lynch met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday afternoon.
The two discussed the ongoing rioting in Baltimore, which came hours after the funeral for Freddie Gray, who died days after he suffered a severe spinal injury while in Baltimore police custody. The Justice Department is investigating that death, and Lynch told the president that the agency would provide whatever help was needed.
Later Monday, Lynch issued a statement condemning the violence in Baltimore as a disservice to Gray’s family and peaceful protesters. She said she would dispatch multiple Justice Department officials — including Vanita Gupta, the head of the department’s civil rights division — to Baltimore in the coming days.
She was previously the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which encompasses much of New York City, and is expected to serve as the top federal law enforcement official for the remainder of the Obama administration.
Lynch isn’t expected to make radical departures from Holder’s agenda, but has said she hopes to have a productive relationship with Congress. Holder frequently clashed with Republicans on Capitol Hill and was held in contempt during a document dispute stemming from the Fast and Furious federal investigation into gun trafficking.
She also inherits a Justice Department that has been at the center of a national debate about police use of force and the role race plays in law enforcement.
“Obviously, the president believes it’s an important priority, and I think there is the expectation that she could do some important work in this area,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.
The Harvard-educated Lynch grew up in North Carolina during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the daughter of a retired teacher and a fourth-generation Baptist preacher who Biden said would take his child to the courthouse to observe important cases.
“I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see ‘way up high, Granddaddy,’ can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything,” Lynch said.
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