Remarks by the President at Investiture Ceremony for Attorney General Loretta Lynch
11:24 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Everybody, please have a seat. I was telling Loretta backstage, a little pomp and circumstance never hurts. (Laughter.)
Justice Sonia Sotomayor is here. (Applause.) I want to congratulate Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates on her confirmation. (Applause.) She is here somewhere. There she is. And I want to thank the elected officials who are here today, the family and the friends, colleagues.
At long last, I’m so proud to be here for the installation of our 83rd Attorney General of the United States, Loretta Lynch. (Applause.)
We want to welcome Loretta’s family -- her husband, Stephen Hargrove -- (applause) -- her father, Reverend Lorenzo Lynch. (Applause.) We want to say to Mrs. Lynch as well, thank you so much for your appearance. (Applause.)
As I said when I nominated Loretta, in a country built on the rule of law, there are few, perhaps no offices more important than that of Attorney General. The person in this position is the American people’s lawyer, tasked with enforcing our federal laws and making sure they’re applied evenly and equally.
That’s the legacy of Eric Holder. (Applause.) We are grateful for his outstanding service as one of the longest-serving Attorney Generals in our history. And I want to thank his wonderful wife, Dr. Sharon Malone, who’s here today. Where’s Sharon at? (Applause.) There she is.
As Attorney General, Eric was driven by his fundamental belief that justice is not an abstraction, it's a very real and tangible way that our laws interact with people in their daily lives. And the good news is Loretta shares that belief.
She brings her own unique style of leadership. She brings a wealth of experience to the Justice Department at a time when there is so much work to be done -- from keeping us safe from terrorist attacks, to protecting our financial system, to safeguarding our environment, to upholding civil rights. And all of you at the Justice Department, public servants who do incredible work day in and day out, could not ask for a better leader.
Many of you know Loretta’s story. Born in segregated Greensboro, North Carolina, Loretta was raised by a fourth-generation Baptist minister and a school librarian -- both of whom don't seem to mind speaking their minds. (Laughter.) That's just my quick impression -- (laughter) -- and more importantly, taught Loretta the value of speaking up for what’s right.
As a young girl, she’d go to the Durham courthouse with her father and watch court proceedings, and he’d tell her stories about her grandfather, who risked everything to protect black people who found themselves caught up with the law but had almost no recourse under Jim Crow. And he did this with only a third grade education -- proving to Loretta that, no matter what our circumstances, we all have the power to make a difference in the lives of others.
So it’s clear that both her parents had a huge influence on Loretta. They are her biggest cheerleaders. Apparently, when she applied to work at the U.S. Attorney’s office and a FBI agent went to their house to conduct a routine background check, her parents pulled out a bunch of scrapbooks of Loretta’s accomplishments -- (laughter) -- made the agents look through them. (Laughter.) I'm sure Loretta was mortified. (Laughter.) “And here in third grade, she got the prize.” (Laughter.) “And here’s one of her old poems.” (Laughter.) I can just picture the FBI agent sitting there, “Yes, ma’am.” (Laughter.)
The agent later told Loretta that she probably wasn’t a threat to America because if she were, “her parents would have documented it in some way.” (Laughter and applause.) That’s something I can appreciate as a father.
So Loretta seized the opportunities that her family gave her to build a distinguished life in public service. After Harvard College and Harvard Law School, she rose to become a strong, independent prosecutor. Loretta spent years in the trenches battling terrorism, and financial fraud, and cybercrime. She went from the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York to Chief of the Long Island Office, Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney. (Applause.) Long Island in the House! (Applause.) And then U.S. Attorney.
She chased public corruption. She helped secure billions in settlements from some of the world’s biggest banks accused of fraud. She jailed some of New York’s most notorious and violent mobsters and gang members. She pursued some of the world’s most dangerous terrorists and cyber criminals.
The law is her map; justice, her compass. She is tough, but she is fair. She is firm, but kind. Her intelligence and her judgment, her grace under fire have earned the trust and admiration of those she works with and those she serves -- and even those she goes up against.
In fact, it’s funny that we are “installing” Loretta today -- it’s not like she’s been waiting around for the embossed invitation. She hit the ground running from day one. She’s already made her mark here at home and abroad because of her laser focus on the core mission of the Justice Department -- the protection of the American people.
And she understands the importance of policing and improving relationships between law enforcement and communities. She went on a six-city tour to spotlight the challenges in community policing and the progress that’s being made. She understands the importance of criminal justice reform -- that we have to be smart on crime, not just tough. That’s why she’s committed to working as a partner to leaders with both parties who want to pursue reform that continues the trend of a falling crime rate and a falling incarceration rate.
She understands the importance of protecting our national security while also securing our civil liberties. That’s why she will safeguard the programs that are critical to protecting American lives and Americans’ privacy. I see our FBI Director, Jim Comey, who’s here, and I know he’s committed to doing the same thing.
She lives out the words of one of our greatest Attorney Generals, Robert F. Kennedy: “The glory of justice and the majesty of the law are created not just by the Constitution, nor by the courts, nor by the officers of the law, nor by the lawyers, but by the men and women who constitute our society -– who are protectors of the law as they are themselves protected by the law.”
That’s always been the story of our nation. Our strength does not come from the words we’ve written on the page, or the laws we’ve put down on the books. It comes from ordinary citizens, generation after generation, who do their part to uphold our founding ideals. It comes from an unshakable faith in our ability to stand up for what is right, and to admit where we’ve fallen short and then choose a better way forward.
That was the cause to which Loretta dedicated her life long before she became America’s top law enforcement officer. Today, the American people can have no greater advocate for their right to equality under the law, no greater partner in securing justice for all than our Attorney General, Loretta Lynch. (Applause.)
(Justice Sotomayor swears in Attorney General Lynch.) (Applause.)
ATTORNEY GENERAL LYNCH: Well. (Laughter) Oh, so much to say, so many people who mean so much to me. Everyone here means something very special to me, and I thank you all.
Mr. President, thank you so much for your words and your presence here today. To say that my heart is full is such an understatement. But one does not get to this place, to this department, to this theater or this podium, alone. And I’m no different. I owe thanks to so many whom I’m so pleased to be able to acknowledge here today.
Mr. President, thank you for your faith in asking me to lead the department that is the conscience of this nation; that represents more than any other the fundamental promise of America of equal justice under the law. Thank you, sir. (Applause.)
Justice Sotomayor, thank you for your support here today and over the years. You are an inspiration not just to me, but to countless young women who see in you a dream made possible. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Thanks also to my good friend and colleague, the Deputy Attorney General, Sally Yates. She is an exemplary colleague. More than that, she’s a true friend. Since our days as U.S. attorneys together, it’s an honor to lead this department with you, Sally, and I thank you. (Applause.)
Thanks to all of you who came here today -- exceptional public servants, distinguished guests, extraordinary leaders, remarkable friends. Your strength and your kindness have paved the way for all that I’ve been able to achieve, and I thank you.
And thanks also to those without whom this day truly would not have happened -- all of those who, from so many affiliations, worked so hard on my behalf on the road to my confirmation. You harnessed the spirit of public service, the spirit of civic contribution, as well as the spirit of sisterhood, to make this dream come to fruition. (Applause.)
I thank you all today from the bottom of my heart not just for your presence here today, but in my life and on this journey.
And of course, I must also thank my family for their steadfast support not only not only over the last several months, but always. My father, Lorenzo, who never fails to match his principles with action, taught me to think for myself and to serve others. My mother, Lorine, instilled in me a love of learning, while her faith that a more just society was possible made me imagine a world without limits. A dedicated young minister who carried me on his shoulders to watch those not much older than I make history. And a courageous young teach who refused to let Jim Crow, or anyone, define her. Their commitment to justice and to public service has been the inspiration for my life’s work. And it is why I dedicate this day, this event, and this achievement to them. (Applause.)
I must also thank my husband, Steve, my life’s partner and my fearless champion, who has never wavered in his support for my dreams, and when faced with a choice, has always -- always -- urged me to fly.
And, of course, I have to thank all my colleagues, my friends at the Department of Justice for your ongoing faith in me and for giving me the opportunity to work for you as we go forth to implement the laws that set us free and bind us together as a nation. I would not have anyone else by my side as we work to preserve our national security and our cherished liberties; to make safe the world of cyberspace; to end the scourge of modern-day slavery; and as we confront the very nature of our citizens’ relationship with those of us entrusted to protect and to serve.
These are, indeed, challenging issues and challenging times. Even as our world has expanded in wonderful ways, the threats that we face have evolved in measures commensurate, and every day we seem to see an increasing disconnect between the communities we serve and the government we represent. We see all these things.
But let me tell you what else I see. I see people speaking out in the time-honored tradition that has made this country stronger. In their cries for justice, I hear the belief that it can be attained. And they would not cry out if they did not have faith that we would answer. I see more. In our law enforcement partners’ quest for support, I hear the guardians’ call for tools to calm the waters, to keep the peace, and to comfort those who fear.
Yes, we have great challenges, but our strength as Americans is to turn our great challenges into great opportunities. Many of our greatest advances in equal rights, in human rights, have come after periods of heartbreaking loss. But they come because we choose not to give in to the twin pulls of revenge and retribution, but we turn to the law.
And sometimes we forget that this has never been easy. You see, over 200 years ago we decided what kind of a country we wanted to be. And we have not always lived up to the promises made, but we have pushed ever on. And with every challenge, we get a little bit closer. We have held the truth of the equality of all men to be self-evident. We have fought to maintain a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. And we have followed a dream deeply rooted in the American Dream.
And at every turn, when struggles threaten to tear us apart, we turn to the law to reconnect ourselves with our highest principles; to give voice to those fighting oppression; to give hope to those seeking the redress of wrongs; to give meaning to the cry of “never again,” and to protect those who call on us in the still small hours of the night when they are cold and frightened. These are our values. These are our beliefs. And when we hold on to them, we do great things.
And what we have learned from all of our challenges is not that our values are not true and good, but that every generation must commit to them, and work to make them real for the challenges of their time, that the price of freedom is constant vigilance. This is how we have succeeded as a country, and this is how we will meet these challenges today.
And if the arc of the moral universe does, indeed, bend toward justice, as I believe that it does, it takes all hearts and all hands to keep its path straight and true.
My friends, I stand before you today having been blessed beyond compare. But to whom much is given, much is required. And so I make these pledges to you here today.
Mr. President, I pledge to you to lead this Department of Justice with integrity, with honor, and a total dedication to the cause of justice.
To the people of this great nation, I pledge to you that your protection, your liberties, and your rights will be my sacred charge.
To the law enforcement community, I pledge that this department will be your partner as we work to carry out our highest mission, the protection of the people of this great nation.
And to all my colleagues in this wonderful Department of Justice, I pledge to always remember that the place of justice is a hallowed place, and continually strive to be worthy of the trust that you have placed in me as we work together to uphold the Constitution, to protect the American people, and to serve the cause of justice.
And to my family, my wonderful family, I pledge to strive to continue to live up to the examples that you have set.
I make these pledges to and before you all upon the oath that I have taken and the honor that I hold dear.
To everyone here in this room, thank you again for the trust that you have reposed in me, for your faith and your confidence in me, and thank you for sharing this wonderful day with me.
Thank you all. (Applause.)
11:45 A.M. EDT