Loretta Lynch Is Confirmed As First Black Woman Attorney General

Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images.
The Senate (finally!) voted to confirm Loretta Lynch as Attorney General of the United States. It's worth celebrating — Lynch is highly accomplished, well deserving, and making history, as the first black woman to do the job. (Read more about her life and career here.)

But, we're not cheering as much as we might have, since her confirmation was overshadowed by another sad saga of how dysfunctional Congress gets over women’s rights.

Lynch waited 165 days — almost six months! — for a vote from the Senate, the final step an Attorney General needs to get the job, and for no good reason. She aced her confirmation hearings way back in November, after current AG Eric Holder said he'd be stepping down. And then, she waited, longer than all seven previous Attorneys General, combined!

What held her up? A fight over abortion access for a very vulnerable group of women, and there’s nothing preventing it from happening again. 

The basic outline of the fight was that Senate Republicans refused to vote on Lynch’s nomination until there was a vote on a human trafficking bill. Hidden in the bill was an amendment that would have banned victims of human trafficking from having abortion care paid for with money seized from traffickers. This ban would have been an expansion of a federal law known as the Hyde Amendment, which stops any taxpayer money from being used for abortions.

It took six weeks of fighting, during which Lynch waited, and other important issues went unattended, before anyone could find a compromise, but the deal doesn’t do anything. The Hyde Amendment doesn't technically apply to money collected from people convicted of trafficking, but it still can not be used to fund their victims' abortions. No one quite got what they wanted, and poor women in need of reproductive health care, including some who've suffered the trauma of exploitation, have to figure everything out on their own.

“It is really egregious that Hyde says your constitutional rights are only available if you can afford to pay the price,” Ilyse Hogue, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League told us while the Senate was still fighting over bill.

It’s worth asking again: Why did this standoff hold up the confirmation of a woman everyone agreed is qualified? There is no good reason. Cynicism, an attempt to get leverage on a popular Republican issue, and hunger for power were all a part of it.

“It’s ridiculous that some politicians are so fixated on a narrow political agenda that they'd go so far as to block a highly qualified nominee for attorney general and deny care to survivors of human trafficking,” Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement Tuesday. And, with states doing all they can to make it more difficult for doctors to give patients high quality reproductive care, and challenges to contraceptive coverage headed for the Supreme Court, another fight over abortion waits just around the corner.

But, there is a silver lining to the whole mess. Lynch can finally start working; there are drug sentencing reform projects, federal civil rights investigations into police brutality, and campus sexual assault enforcements to deal with, after all. And maybe a few more people know about the Hyde Amendment.

“I think people are starting to understand that this is a GOP sneak attack to expand a law that most people feel is unjust but has been in place for a long time,” Hogue said. “I’m optimistic, because we’ve seen so much interest in our activities around us. And, the more we have this conversation, the more we know that people are outraged by the GOP senators playing politics with the most vulnerable women in this country.”
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