Over the last several months, faith leaders across the country have faced intractable obstacles to building inclusive communities, such as increasing income inequality and attacks on voting rights, especially here in North Carolina. That is why the delay in confirming one of the most qualified candidates for the top law enforcement post in the nation, U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, is so important.
While Sens. Richard Burr and Thoms Tillis are on Easter recess in our beloved North Carolina, they should resign from the chorus of hate and division, set aside the petty politics of Washington and listen to the chorus of justice and unity in our state. Specifically, during this Holy Week, when courage and love triumphed over fear, hatred and injustice, they should support Lynch for the post of attorney general.
Lynch’s history and family – she is the daughter of three generations of African-American ministers who helped many escape the Jim Crow South – not only tell us of the values on which she was raised but give us a glimpse into the heart of a woman who has spent 30 years fighting for justice. She has pledged to enforce the constitution, including the requirement to provide equal protection to all and to not allow the denial or abridgment of the right to vote, which has sadly come under attack right here in North Carolina.
Lynch’s nomination and in turn the Department of Justice have languished for nearly five months – longer than any other attorney general nominee ever – despite the overwhelming support from the law enforcement and civil rights communities, as well as from Republican senators such as Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine.
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And with good reason. Over a 30-year career, Lynch has assembled a lengthy record as a proven leader and capable manager who has consistently fought for justice. She has distinguished herself as a tough, fair and independent lawyer who has twice headed one of the most active and effective U.S. Attorney’s offices in the country. Yet by the time the Senate heads back after a two-week recess, she will have been waiting longer than any other attorney general nominee ever – and more than a month since she received bipartisan support in the Judiciary Committee.
In March 1870, the 15th Amendment was added to the Constitution, establishing the right of all men of color – particularly those who had been slaves and their offspring – to vote. This right was expanded to include all women, including women of color, through the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It is the constitutional duty of the U.S. Attorney General to protect the right to vote, and there is no better candidate to do so than Lynch.
While the Senate fiddles its chorus of hate and division, many segments of our nation are burning.
Relations between people of color and the broken “justice” systems in our cities are strained. Thoughtful Justice Department guidance about fixing these dysfunctional systems needs strong, sensible and sober leadership now.
I don’t believe it’s Lynch’s color that has led Burr and Tillis to oppose her for the position, but rather their fear of her character, courage and commitment to enforce the law and Constitution that have been shaped by her upbringing in the crucible civil rights struggle. They have both acknowledged that she is highly qualified and that she would enforce the law. Yet they have also both passed and supported voter suppression laws and positions on civil rights as it relates to immigrants, LGBT people and women that are regressive and currently facing serious legal scrutiny.
I believe they are afraid of an attorney general who will enforce the Constitution to its fullest and not turn a blind eye to the law or blatant discrimination. And in this sense, their opposition to her is about race. It is the attorney general who has the ability to address systemic inequality, which includes racism, sexism, classicism, homophobia, immigration fearmongering or any other “ism” that violates the right of all citizens to equal protection under the law guaranteed by our constitution.
Which is why the delay in the Senate is a shame – for Lynch, for the Department of Justice, for North Carolina and for our nation. Her story personifies the success those in our communities can see when we create opportunity instead of division. When Burr and Tillis return to the Senate after recess, they should lead with a higher moral conviction and confirm their fellow North Carolinian to be the next attorney general.
Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is president of the NC NAACP and pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro.