Federal prosecutor Loretta Lynch was sworn in Monday as U.S. attorney general, inheriting a folder filled with such immediate and pressing concerns as community policing, cyber security and terrorism.
The civil unrest across the country sparked by the recent deaths of black males during encounters with police officers will indeed by a top priority for Lynch, sworn in as the first black women to lead the Justice Department amid protests and riots in Baltimore.
"We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and those who enforce them," Lynch said in her swearing-in ceremony, making an apparent reference to the ongoing efforts to repair relations between police departments and minority communities. “I know this can be done.”
The Justice Department is already viewing the Baltimore incident for possible civil rights violations.
But the larger issue will likely be whether Lynch can or bring charges, after her predecessor Attorney General Eric Holder failed to bring charges against in a white police officer in the fatal 2014 shooting death of black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Freddie Gray, 25, suffered a serve back injury April 12 while inside a Baltimore police van and later died.
The 55-year-old Lynch was sworn in by Vice President Biden as the country’s top law-enforcement officer, after waiting nearly six months for the Senate to end a partisan squabble and confirm her nomination.
“This is an incredible moment,” Biden said. “It's about time this woman is being sworn in. … She had never been limited by the lower expectations of others, but has always exceeded the expectations she would set for herself.”
Lynch was previously the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which encompasses much of New York City and is one of the Justice Department’s busiest offices.
The Harvard Law School graduate and daughter of a southern preacher inherits a Justice Department consumed by efforts to stop the flow of Islamic State recruits to Syria and prevent destructive computer crimes against American corporations.
“If a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see ‘way up high, Granddaddy,’ can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything,” Lynch said Monday.
She will have limited time in the twilight of the Obama administration to craft ambitious new policy proposals and is seen as unlikely to depart in radical ways from Holder's priorities.
She has tried to assure Republicans in recent months that she would arrive in Washington with her own law-and-order perspective.
In Holder’s six years as the first black U.S. attorney general, he repeatedly clashed with congressional Republicans, who accused him of being overly political. They held him in contempt in 2012 for failing to provide additional information related to the failed federal gun-running program known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Holder also left office without pursing contempt charges raised by the GOP-led Congress against Lois Lerner, for her role in the IRS targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups.
In Lynch’s roughly eight years as U.S. Attorney in New York, she oversaw cases against terrorists, cyber criminals and elected officials -- all common Justice Department targets.
The office has recently brought several noteworthy cases against suspected Islamic State group recruits, but without the typical fanfare of a news conference.
And it is still involved in the civil rights investigation arising from the death of a black Staten Island man who was placed in a choke hold by a white police officer.
As a Brooklyn prosecutor, Lynch attracted attention for her leading role in one of the most sensational police brutality cases in city history, the 1997 broomstick torture of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a precinct bathroom.
Lynch served from 1999 to 2001 as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District before entering private practice.
She returned to the position in 2010 and was appointed to the Attorney General's Advisory Committee, a position that required her to spend more time in Washington and drew her closer to Holder.
During her second tenure, Lynch's office has won convictions in a thwarted al Qaeda-sanctioned plot to attack New York City subways, and against a Canadian drug kingpin who was one of New York's biggest marijuana suppliers.
More recently, her office brought a tax evasion case against former Republican Congressman Michael Grimm that resulted in his guilty plea and resignation.
Beyond the pressing issues of terrorism and cyber-attacks and community policing, Lynch also inherits pending settlement cases involving currency manipulation on Wall Street and similar cases of alleged police brutality in South Carolina and Ohio.
The head of President Obama's initiative for minority males will attend the Gray funeral Monday.
Lynch also must oversee a department composed of 40 agencies including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the troubled Drug Enforcement Administration, who director resigned last week after reports that agents attended drinking parties with prostitutes hired legally by Colombian drug cartels.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.