U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch (135561)

Loretta E. Lynch, 55, may soon make history. She will be the 83rd U.S. attorney general if and when she is confirmed. Lynch knew she was placing herself in the crosshairs of a political battle. With little time and a long docket, she must prove herself in the midst of a storm.

As the first African-American woman, second African-American and second woman to hold the office of U.S. attorney general, she will have to navigate allegations of race-based police killings as well as cybercrimes, immigration, terrorist threats, voting rights, Wall Street, Islamic State and Guantanamo Bay, all while under the scrutiny of a Republican-controlled Congress and conservative-led U.S. Supreme Court.

Jan. 28, Lynch was questioned about her intentions should she become U.S. attorney general. However, it was Eric Holder, not Lynch, at the forefront of the minds of members of the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee. At one point, questioning of Lynch was more a criticism of Holder, who resigned after six contentious years, than concerns about Lynch’s qualifications.

Holder, 56, is an outspoken champion of racial justice, immigration, same-sex marriage and reforms on Wall Street. He is married to the sister of the late Vivian Malone, who desegregated the University of Alabama. Holder, who described himself as President Barack Obama’s “wingman,” used the attorney general’s office to address social justice issues, such as the police killing of unarmed civilians that ignited protests nationwide and brought America international rebukes.

Lynch inherited Holder’s docket and controversy. At her hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), now a candidate for president, peppered Lynch about her position on immigration, because of Holder’s support of Obama’s Dream Act, which gives amnesty to illegal immigrants. Lynch agreed with executive amnesty. With great poise, this daughter of a librarian and a Baptist minister, with one brother a Navy SEAL and the other a minister, refused to back down with Cruz.

At that January hearing, senators questioned whether Lynch believed water-boarding was torture. She does. Whether she supported the legalization of marijuana. No, she does not agree with Obama on this issue. Whether she would continue the NSA program of terror surveillance. Yes, she believes it is an effective tool.

In her opening statement, Lynch said, “Protecting the American people from terrorism must be the primary mission of today’s Department of Justice.”

“I see a combination of steel and velvet,” remarked Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), at that January hearing. Lynch is diminutive, standing approximately 5 feet tall. Her Southern graciousness—she is a native of Greensborough, N.C.—combined with a determined spirit will certainly be beneficial in this political maelstrom that is Capitol Hill. The Judiciary Committee voted 12-8 in her favor in January. But the full Senate vote has been stalled.

After graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Lynch worked in private practice as a partner in a major law firm but returned to public service. She entered the U.S. attorney’s office in New York and rose up through the ranks in the Eastern District of New York and was twice confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, which covers Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island and Long Island.

Although she is responsible for such cases as the 2014 indictment of Republican Michael Grimm, the Staten Island congressman who later resigned, Lynch has remained out of the national limelight. Lynch has served as a special prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, prosecuting their genocide cases. In 1999, she prosecuted police officers responsible for the brutal attack on Abner Louima.

The Judiciary Committee approved her nomination Feb. 26. But the process stalled again. It has taken more than five months altogether to bring Lynch’s nomination to the Senate floor for a full vote. Pamela Meanes, president of the National Bar Association, drafted a “cease and desist” order to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is blamed for the delay. Obama called this historic delay “embarrassing.” Partisan division over an abortion-related provision in an anti-sex trafficking bill was finally resolved.

But now, with less than two years left in the Obama administration, Lynch has little time for new initiatives. And extending the legacy of Holder will certainly raise further opposition from Republicans. Differentiating herself from Holder was a key point made by Republicans and some Democratic senators. When asked if she was just like Holder, Lynch calmly responded, “I am not Eric Holder. I am Loretta Lynch.”

Now that she has entered the national stage, America will soon find out how Attorney General Loretta Lynch will address the nation’s diverse concerns. If her past record is any indication, it will be with grace and tenacity.