By Sarah Ferris - 11/08/14 04:41 PM EST
President Obama on Saturday touted his pick for head of the Justice Department as a strong civil rights defender who shares the same “fierce commitment to equal justice” as departing Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderLawyer claims death threats after anti-Black Lives Matter lawsuit Adviser: Obama can’t ‘erase decades’ of racism Airbnb enlists civil rights leaders in discrimination fight MORE.
Obama said Loretta Lynch, a federal prosecutor with two decades of experience, would carry Holder’s strong legacy of civil rights given her own background.
If confirmed by the Senate, Lynch would become the first African American woman to lead the Justice Department. She would succeed Holder, who was the first African American to hold the post and has become one of the department’s longest-serving leaders.
Lynch would also be faced with the fallout of the deadly shooting of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. The jury in the case will soon reach a decision, which is likely to stir more unrest.
Standing beside Holder and Lynch in the Roosevelt Room, Obama touted his nominee’s 30 years of experience in law and said "it's pretty hard to be more qualified for this job than Loretta.”
He pointed out that Lynch was raised in Greensboro, North Carolina, a city where a group of black students sat at a whites-only lunch counter and helped “spark a movement that would change the course of this country.”
Her grandfather had been sharecropper under the Jim Crow system and Obama said that if he was still alive, he would have been proud.
Lynch’s experience is far-ranging: She has prosecuted members of the Mafia, terrorists who plotted to bomb the New York City subway, and elected officials – including Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.) who recently won reelection to the House.
Obama said he was confident that Lynch would help drive White House priorities such as reforming the criminal justice system.
“Loretta might be the lawyer in America who battles mobsters and drug lords and terrorists and still has the reputation for being a charming people person. That’s probably because Loretta doesn't look to make headlines, she looks to make a difference,” he added.
Lynch said she was “thrilled” to receive the president’s nomination, which will now head to the Senate Judiciary Committee for review.
“If I have the honor being confirmed by the Senate, I will wake up every morning with the protection of the American people my first thought,” Lynch said.
“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.”
This story was posted at 11:49 a.m. and updated at 4:41 p.m.