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Tuesday, November 20 , 2018, 5:05 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

Susan Estrich: Loretta Lynch Makes More Than History as 1st African-American Woman Attorney General

When she takes the oath of office as attorney general, after coming close to breaking records on how long it took to give her the courtesy of a vote, Loretta Lynch will become the first African-American woman to serve in that position.

And while it’s easy to forget, to take such “firsts” as simply belated, which this one is, it is also deserving of celebration.

Lynch’s confirmation should have been a nonissue. She’s a career prosecutor, not a politician. She has close ties and has earned the respect of many in the law enforcement community. She has already announced plans to spend time this summer reaching out to police to build cooperation with minority communities.

The only reason for the delay that had anything to do with her — as opposed to an entirely unrelated fight that was causing an uncontroversial bill on sex trafficking to stall — was her defense of President Barack Obama’s immigration policy. Seriously, what would anyone expect?

The rest was directly related to the partisan posturing that dominates the Senate and undermines confidence in government.

But even justice delayed can taste pretty sweet.

It matters that we have African-Americans and other minorities in top offices, particularly those with direct responsibility over issues that divide us on racial lines — like the criminal justice system too often does. Sure, you can say Lynch is a token, that her résumé reads more conservative than the man she is replacing and that she comes from the law enforcement side of the criminal justice family, which should make her an easy vote for anyone.

All that is true, and yet, when I saw her smiling face on the TV, with the chyron “Confirmed as Attorney General” under her name, I couldn’t help but feel that slowly, stubbornly, painfully, we are changing.

I felt the same way at a recent program put together by my old friend, Beth Friedman, one of those Los Angeles women whose husband is rich enough and kids old enough that she could be leading a life of real leisure. She isn’t. For her chapter two, she’s devoted herself to women’s rights.

Earlier this month, she brought together a who’s who of women working on every aspect of the campus rape problem. I was the old-timer in the group — I’ve been writing and occasionally hollering about the problem for about three decades now — and the familiarity of the discussion could have been depressing.

But it wasn’t. Because the audience was full of young and younger-than-me women who are ready to take up the gauntlet, or whatever it is, and advance the cause of prevention on their own campuses. And it was all because Beth decided to make a difference. One woman here, one woman there.

There is still so much to be accomplished in the struggle for sexual justice and gender equality. But there is progress, too. And every once in a while, it’s important to smile and celebrate even as we continue the work that must be done.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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