The rejection late last week by North Carolina’s two U.S. senators of North Carolina native Loretta Lynch’s nomination for U.S. attorney general can be traced to a speech Lynch gave about a year ago at the Martin Luther King Center in Long Beach, N.Y.
The opposition by Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans, centers on Lynch’s apparent unwillingness to reverse course in a federal challenge to North Carolina’s voter ID law. Tillis helped shepherd the idea into law, saying it was important to maintain integrity in elections. The ID requirement goes into effect next year.
Lynch spoke out on the topic in her 30-minute speech on Long Island in late January, captured by the MLK center and posted to YouTube in a video that first circulated widely late last year at the time Lynch’s nomination became public. Lynch is currently the top federal prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York.
At the time she spoke, the voter ID issue had become a major part of protests against the legislature and Tillis’ tenure there – in particular among those led by William Barber II, executive director of the state’s NAACP chapter. Barber and others say the voter ID requirement is meant to suppress the vote.
“We stand in this country,” Lynch said last year, “at a time when we see people trying to take back so much of what Dr. King fought for. We stand in this country. People try and take over the statehouse and reverse the goals that have been made in voting in this country.”
Lynch continued: “But I’m proud to tell you that the Department of Justice has looked at these laws and looked at what’s happening in the Deep South, and in my home state of North Carolina, has brought lawsuits against those voting rights changes that seek to limit our ability to stand up and exercise our rights as citizens. And those lawsuits will continue.”
Tillis asked Lynch directly about this in her confirmation hearing about six weeks ago. He pointed out that, because he was House speaker when the voter ID law passed, he was a defendant in the federal lawsuit. He pointed out that she must have been talking about him: “I presume, since I was the person that took over the statehouse, I would be included by reference,” he said.
Tillis asked Lynch if she would look “objectively” at the issue. He mentioned “limited resources.” He wanted to know if she thought it made sense to continue the North Carolina lawsuit.
“I believe there will be a trial at some point in time,” Lynch responded. “I’m not familiar with the status of the case now, so I can’t comment on that specific case or that specific statute.”
Tillis, Burr explain
Polls have shown broad support among North Carolinians for the voter ID requirement. Most polls have reported that more than two-thirds of state residents or voters support the ID mandate.
In opposing Lynch, Burr and Tillis both explained their decisions as being rooted in her likely approach to continue the challenge against the state’s voter ID law.
Burr: “I am unable to support her nomination due to her advocacy for continuing federal lawsuits against states like North Carolina who seek to uphold the integrity of their elections. I believe states have an obligation to ensure the fairness and accuracy of their elections, but unfortunately this hyperpartisan Justice Department has challenged voter ID laws for political advantage. I wish Ms. Lynch the best in her future endeavors, but she is not the right choice for Attorney General.”
Tillis: “By all indications, Ms. Lynch would continue to pursue the costly and frivolous lawsuit against the state of North Carolina to overturn a commonsense and constitutionally sound voter ID law. That same law is supported by the vast majority of North Carolinians, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that similar state photo ID laws are in fact constitutional.”
Tillis made reference to other concerns but also highlighted the exchange he had with her.
“In light of the testimony at her confirmation hearing and her subsequent refusal to provide straightforward answers to written questions from myself and other senators, it appears that she would represent little, if any, tangible policy or management difference from Attorney General Eric Holder,” Tillis said. “I cannot vote to confirm a nominee who will not make a firm and explicit commitment to reverse the partisan politicization that presently exists at the Department of Justice.”
Still, Lynch’s candidacy advanced last week and is expected to go to a vote of the full Senate within weeks.
Barber and others cast the decision in much broader terms, suggesting Burr and Tillis should support Lynch, at least in part, because she is a North Carolinian. They noted Lynch had support from several other Republican senators, including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Barber called Tillis’ decision an “extreme and regressive vote against a daughter of North Carolina” and one that “is beyond the pale of thoughtful political sensibility.”
J. Andrew Curliss
New statewide poll
The latest statewide poll conducted by Elon University was released Tuesday, and it shows what might be increased support for Gov. Pat McCrory and the N.C. General Assembly since the last poll, in October. Approval ratings for Congress appears to have dipped. The poll of 773 registered voters has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.52 percentage points. The confidence level is 95 percent.
McCrory at 41 percent approval
Gov. Pat McCrory’s disapproval rating, 40.8 percent, is about the same as his approval rating. His approval among fellow Republicans is 68 percent.
Legislature at 33.8 percent approval
The N.C. General Assembly’s approval is about 34 percent, and disapproval is 44 percent. Among Republicans, 48 percent approve. Among Democrats, 59 percent disapprove.
Congress at 13.3 percent approval
Disapproval ratings for Congress are strong among Republicans (70 percent), independents (79 percent) and Democrats (80 percent).