Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Loretta Lynch, President Obama's nominee for Attorney General, has had an impressive career as a federal prosecutor and the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Interestingly, she has also had some direct experience with the international human rights system. This past August, Lynch was a member of the United States delegation that traveled to Geneva to report on U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).
Lynch's testimony to the CERD Committee focused on criminal justice. While acknowledging that there is more to do, she defended the U.S. record stating that:
From the reduction of the use of solitary confinement, to the expansion of the federal clemency program, to our support for the retroactive reduction of penalties for non-violent drug offenders to the reduction in the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, we have worked to improve our criminal justice system in furtherance of our human rights treaty obligations. We look forward to the future and the opportunity to do even more.
International law is not likely to be a focus of Lynch's confirmation hearings, yet in a year when the U.S. has been reviewed under both CERD and CAT, with a Universal Periodic Review on the horizon, and with the Department of Justice playing an important role in these reviews, there may be some attention to her human rights positions. Indeed, when Eric Holder testified during his confirmation hearings in 2009 that torture such as waterboarding violated international law, it made news. There is little indication in Loretta Lynch's prior record that she has championed a human rights framework. But given the range of human rights issues within the DOJ's ambit, Lynch's recent participation in the CERD review should be seen as enhancing her qualifications for the job of Attorney General.