Tag: Senate

Legal Divas of Color: Loretta Lynch

Every Black History Month, I do a series featuring Legal Divas of Color.  Last year, I focused more on the original trailblazers in the legal field, such as Jane Bolin, Charlotte E. Ray, and Gwen S. Cherry.  This year, I will focus on 21st century African American women, who are movers shakers, and laying the groundwork for a new generation of legal divas!!

It is only fitting that I begin with the Legal Diva whose name is at the forefront of the news at present: Loretta Lynch.

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On November 8, 2014, President Obama nominated Ms. Lynch to succeed Eric Holder as Attorney General of the United States.  This is the top legal position in America.  Not only does the Attorney General advise the President, but the Attorney General sets the policy and the tone for all prosecutions that occur in the federal system. However, being nominated is step one; surviving the Senate is the big hurdle.  At present, Loretta Lynch is going through her confirmation hearing in front of the Senate, where the Senators grill her on her beliefs, what kind of Attorney General she would be, and what policies she will enforce.

But who is Loretta Lynch?

Her path was a very straightforward one. She was born in Greensboro, North Carolina on May 21, 1959. The grandchild of sharecroppers, and the daughter of a schoolteacher and a minister, Ms. Lynch knew the value of hard work early.  She also learned the importance of justice; she attended civil rights rallies as a child, and sat front row to history being made. Academically, Ms. Lynch excelled.  She was valedictorian of her high school class, and received her undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard.

Upon graduation, Ms. Lynch joined a firm, then became an Assistant US Attorney (federal prosecutor) for the Eastern District of New York in 1990. The Eastern District of New York includes Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and parts of Long Island.  In 1999, then President Bill Clinton nominated her to become the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, making her the head of that office. She left the office to join a firm in 2001, returning in 2010 when President Obama nominated her to the position again.

Loretta Lynch has prosecuted more terrorism cases than any of her counterparts. She has successfully prosecuted politicians for corruption (both Democrat and Republican), and prosecuted the police officers who brutalized Abner Louima in 1997. She has also met with the family of Eric Garner after his chokehold death during a police encounter in 2014 to discuss the viability of a federal prosecution. And, she has prosecuted banks for fraud, obtaining million dollar settlements.

On a personal note, I met Ms. Lynch two years ago. She has an air of grace, a quiet strength, and resolve that is really cool to behold.  She is very understated, which certainly why her opponents underestimate her. Ms. Lynch inspired and continues to inspire me to blaze my own trail.

Thank you Loretta Lynch, for being an inspiring Legal Diva!!

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PS if you want to voice your support for Loretta Lynch, call your Senator at 202-224-3121 and urge him/her to vote to confirm her. The National Black Prosecutors Association (of which I am President) stands with many bipartisan organizations that support Ms. Lynch.

M.

Judge Darrin Gayles Makes History

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It’s rare that you get a front row seat to watch history happen. Yesterday, I had the honor and privilege of watching Judge Darrin Gayles become the first openly gay African American male judge on the federal bench. This event, called an investiture, was filled with the Judge’s friends, colleagues, and certainly did not disappoint.

I’m not a huge fan of labels– I’d rather call him what he is. A smart, kind, funny, person; an uber qualified judge, who gives back to the community.

But, that’s not the world we are in. We focus on labels. Knowing this, what does one do?

You do like Judge Gayles, embracing it and turning it into a positive.

In a very emotional speech, he outlined his path from humble beginnings as a son of a young widow in Peoria, Illinois to history making judge. He worked hard, maintaining full time employment and going to school. He had great role models (which is why he volunteers time to mentor young men in the community). Judge Gayles was a state and federal prosecutor, then became a state judge in the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Miami Dade County).

President Obama nominated him early this year to be a federal judge to the Southern District of Florida. Judge Gayles was confirmed by the Senate 98-0, clearing the way for the historic event.

What really struck me was when he said ” there is a difference between living your life openly, and living your life publicly“. He was openly gay, and it was not really a big deal day to day in his world. But when he went through the confirmation process, his entire life became public. The fact he was a gay man seeking confirmation as a federal judge became international news.

But in that moment….he became a role model to so many more people. Judge Gayles told a story about how he was out one night, and a young woman, having recognized him, ran up to him, and tearfully told him how much his journey had inspired her to live openly in her truth.

As an attorney, I have been to dozens of these events. I have never been so moved as when Judge Gayles began to speak about his faith in God; he could barely hold back his tears as he acknowledged the blessings bestowed upon his life, including the love of his partner Raymond. “Great is Thy faithfulness” he quoted. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided; Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me”

It was a wrap for me. Thank heavens my mascara was waterproof.

Congratulations Judge Gayles. Keep rising, keep shining, and keep reaching back to inspire others!