Former AG Loretta Lynch Says Lawyers Carry Unique Burden to Pursue Truth
Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, this year's recipient of the Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law, said in a talk Thursday at the University of Virginia School of Law that the pursuit of justice is inextricable from the pursuit of truth, and that lawyers carry a special burden because of it.
"Do we take the often difficult path to follow truth wherever it leads, or do we simply follow the ever-increasing volume surrounding the ideas we already think we know?" Lynch asked the crowded auditorium of mostly law students.
Her remarks, titled "The Role of Lawyers in a Post-Truth World," were given in association with the award, which is UVA's highest external honor. The medals are sponsored jointly by UVA and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, the nonprofit organization that owns and operates Monticello, and are also issued in architecture, citizen leadership and global innovation.
Lynch said the current climate of bitter partisanship is nothing new, and will only be overcome by truly listening to opposing viewpoints — something that lawyers are well trained to do. They must hear and consider all sides. They must seek to understand the strengths of their opponents' arguments, and the weaknesses of their own.
In doing so, "You become less tied to your beliefs simply because they are yours," she said.
In her time serving as attorney general, Lynch said, she aspired to let truth guide her decision-making. For example, when states began passing stricter voter ID laws that disenfranchised minority voters disproportionately, her department cited research that disproved the assertion that in-person voter fraud was a significant problem, she said.
"A review of the facts, carried out by the Justice Department not during just my tenure, but [also] by my predecessor's, shows that these laws were disproportionately ruining minority voters," Lynch said. "And they were all passed in the name of curbing in-person voter fraud."
During her time in office, Lynch also went on a listening tour to several cities to promote community policing and to help strengthen relationships in communities where residents and police had a history of distrust. She said the tour was about being able to see "the truth in someone else's perspective, in someone else's pain."
That tour was important, she said, because how communities regard law enforcement affects the quality of service everyone receives.
Lynch was sworn in as the 83rd U.S. attorney general on April 27, 2015, and was the first African-American woman to hold the position. She previously served in the Obama administration for the five years prior as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York. She also led that office, located in Brooklyn, from 1991 to 2001 under President Bill Clinton. She first joined the office in 1990.
During her career, Lynch has successfully prosecuted cases involving narcotics, guns, organized crime and public corruption.
She holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School and an A.B., cum laude, from Harvard College.
The Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medals are awarded each year to recognize the achievements of those who embrace endeavors in which Jefferson — author of the Declaration of Independence, third U.S. president and founder of the University of Virginia — excelled and held in high regard.
This year's winners took part in numerous activities across Grounds as part of this year's Founders Day events.
- UVA Jefferson Medalist John Gleeson '80 Calls for Sentencing Reform
- International Court of Justice Represents Unique Blend of Legal Systems, Says Judge Joan Donoghue
- Sept. 11, BP Oil Spill Fund-Master Kenneth Feinberg: Compensation Fills Need in Wake of Mass Catastrophes
- Robert Mueller '73 Reflects on Bureau's Transformation After 9/11
Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.