Democratic lawmakers are meeting today to debate the way forward in the lame-duck session. One key issue will be the timing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch. It looks increasingly likely the hearing won’t begin until next year when the Republicans take control of the Senate. If confirmed as attorney general, Lynch would be the first African-American woman to hold the position. We are joined by one Lynch’s law school classmates, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University and the founder of the African American Policy Forum. Crenshaw also discusses the latest in her campaign to include girls and women of color in Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program, which calls on community groups and businesses to help men of color out of the criminal justice system.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In news from Washington, Democratic lawmakers will be meeting today to debate the way forward in the post-election lame-duck session. One key issue will be the timing of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearing of attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch. It looks increasingly likely, to the shock of many, that the hearing won’t begin until next year, after the Republicans take control of the Senate. On Saturday, President Obama nominated Lynch to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder. Lynch is currently the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta. Throughout her 30-year career, she has distinguished herself as tough, as fair, an independent lawyer who has twice headed one of the most prominent U.S. attorney’s offices in the country. She has spent years in the trenches as a prosecutor, aggressively fighting terrorism, financial fraud, cybercrime, all while vigorously defending civil rights.
AMY GOODMAN: If confirmed as attorney general, Loretta Lynch would be the first African-American woman to hold the position. Lynch has served as U.S. attorney in the Eastern District since 2010. She also worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Eastern District Office between 1990 and 2001, and served in the top post from 1999 to 2001. In her first stint in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, she worked on the prosecution of New York police officers who were convicted in connection with the torture of the Haitian immigrant Abner Louima. In 2001, she became a partner at the law firm Hogan & Hartson. In 2003 to ’05, she was a member of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
For more on Loretta Lynch and other issues, as well, we’re joined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University and the founder of the African American Policy Forum. She went to Harvard Law School with Loretta Lynch. Kimberlé Crenshaw has led the campaign to include girls and women of color in President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper, which calls on community groups and businesses to help men of color out of the criminal justice system.
Well, we’re going to take these one step at a time, Professor Crenshaw. Let’s start with—well, you know Loretta Lynch.
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: You were in law school together. You were in a small class together.
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yes, yes. So, we are all, of course, delighted that President Obama has seen the good wisdom in nominating Loretta Lynch. It couldn’t come at a better time for him, given how much pressure the administration has been under over the last 10 months to actually recognize that women of color do exist. It was interesting, in one of his addresses on My Brother’s Keeper, one of the things he said is that boys need role models, they need to be able to look up and see the possibility that they could become the attorney general of the United States. Well, at the very time he said that, most boys of color already had that role model. And the question was: Would he recognize that the one constituency that has not yet had that opportunity to look up and see someone that looks like them in that position had been women of color? So, we kind of scratched our heads about, gee, why doesn’t he make this as an opportunity to provide that role model? And thankfully, he’s done so.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, this is Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, speaking last week after President Obama announced her nomination to replace Eric Holder as U.S. attorney general.
LORETTA LYNCH: I pledge today to you and to the American people that if I have the honor of being confirmed by the Senate, I will wake up every morning with the protection of the American people my first thought. And I will work every day to safeguard our citizens, our liberties, our rights and this great nation, which has given so much to me and my family.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Loretta Lynch speaking last week after Obama announced her as the nominee for attorney general. So could you explain why he’s not going to put her forward as the nominee until after the lame-duck session ends and Republicans are in control of the Senate?
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Well, you know, it’s obviously difficult for any of us to intuit why. What we can do is say something about the consequences. At this point, when the leadership of the attorney general is so important and when the importance of moving this particular candidate just serves so many purposes, it seems like low-hanging fruit. So the failure to simply grab onto that low-hanging fruit actually is a cause of some concern. We don’t want the first African-American nominee [sic] to this important position to be subject to politics. We want this to be as—
AMY GOODMAN: African-American woman, right?
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: African-American woman.
AMY GOODMAN: Because, of course, Eric Holder was the first African-American man.
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Exactly, which, again, is one of the reasons why this is such an intersectional moment, right? We’ve had women, and they broke glass ceilings. We’ve had African-American men, and they—and he’s broken a glass ceiling. This is an important moment. So, one would think that one message that the administration might want to give, given that they’ve been soft on supporting their most, most solid constituency, is to say, “This one is in the bag for us. This one, we’re going to make happen.” So, there is a degree of consternation and disappointment that, on one hand, here’s a wonderful package, but, you know, you’re going to have to wait until you get into the middle of a dogfight in order to open it.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s astounding. Congress is—they’ll be having a meeting today, but the fact that they’re not using these weeks they have Democrats in control, where they just need a majority to approve Loretta Lynch, that they’re going to put this off and say, “Well, I’m sure the Republicans will do it.”
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Well, this is disappointing. And for many of us who have watched the administration closely, this seems to be one of the gestures that has gotten the administration in trouble in the past. “We’ll show that we’ll play nice. We’ll show that we are not anxious to exercise power in a way that would force people away from the table.” And that just seems not to have worked. And this is not one of those situations that I think we really want to play politics with. We have the power now to make this happen. It is a most important thing to happen. So they should go ahead with it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, yesterday there was an interesting meeting at the White House—
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —led by Valerie Jarrett. Most people, I think, in this country may not know what My Brother’s Keeper is. And in the brief moments we have, if you can talk about the significance of what President Obama put forward and what is happening with it now?
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Yes. So, My Brother’s Keeper has been the president’s racial justice initiative. Coming out of Trayvon Martin, his basic approach was: We need to send a message to men and boys of color that they’re valued and they’re loved. So he called together, basically using his bully pulpit, private fund—private foundations, private corporations, to say, “We’ve got to make a serious commitment to making sure that boys are not left behind. Here are all the statistics that show that they’re really in significant trouble.” And he ordered all of the departments of the administration to look into their administration, see how boys were situated and what could be done to make their lives better. That was the point of departure.
Many of us had been concerned about this. We thought, of course it’s important to send a message that people of color are in crises, but it’s not just boys of color. So, 1,400-1,600 women, 200-300 African-American men wrote letters saying, “We cannot stand by while we exclude a whole half of our population, who are living in the same neighborhoods, going to the same schools, having the same police encounters that men are, and watch as though those issues aren’t happening to them.”
So, finally—we see this as somewhat of a response—the White House has issued a report. There was a big event, as you said, to indicate that the White House has been listening, and here are some of the things that the White House has done for women and girls. The problem is that most of these things are simply public relations accounts for the White House. They’re not things that are based on the fact that African-American women are the only group that hasn’t achieved any kind of advance through the economic recovery. They’re doing worse now than ever before. Nothing about why it is that girls are—black girls are six times more likely to be suspended from school. They acknowledge it, but they don’t say it’s largely because of racial stereotypes; they’re more likely to be suspended for subjective kinds of infractions, more likely to be sent home because they have a bad attitude. This is a moment where girls experience a particular kind of race discrimination, and they don’t pay attention.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds. Are you hopeful because the meeting was held yesterday—
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Oh, we are.
AMY GOODMAN: —and a January session is also expected?
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: We’re not hopeful about the meeting. We’re hopeful because finally the attention is back. So, people across the country in My Brother’s Keeper cities, including New York, are signing letters, asking mayors to include women and girls in My Brother’s Keeper, including—interesting—Ferguson. Ferguson, Missouri, is a My Brother’s Keeper partner with the Obama administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, I want to thank you so much for being with us, founder of the African American Policy Forum.