- - Friday, November 7, 2014

When word swept through Washington that President Obama intended to nominate Loretta Lynch as the successor to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr, the collective reaction was, “Loretta Who?” Perhaps it was the first sign that Mr. Obama had resigned himself to a small serving of humble pie. He didn’t nominate Al Sharpton.

Ms. Lynch has been the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York since President Clinton put her there in 1999. Sen. Charles E. Schumer has been her champion, and he recommended that Mr. Obama keep her a decade later. She was tipped for bigger things. Is this the president’s gift to keep Mr. Schumer from mounting a challenge to Harry Reid for minority leader of the Senate?

Ms. Lynch rarely gives interviews and avoids incendiary boasting when she goes after corrupt politicians, preferring to let her work speak for itself. Some Republicans were unhappy that she indicted Rep. Michael Grimm, New York Republican, a few months before the election. His crimes, if any, hardly mattered to voters. He was re-elected last week with 55 percent of the vote.

Ms. Lynch has pursued shady Democrats, too, including state Sen. John Sampson, the former Democratic leader of the state Senate, for embezzlement. Assemblyman William Boyland, another Democrat, was indicted for soliciting bribes. The reimbursement request for $65,000 that got him in additional trouble was for trips he made to meet men he didn’t know were undercover FBI agents.

As her confirmation hearing approaches, details may emerge of partisanship by Ms. Lynch in the conduct of her office. But so far, if she is indeed the president’s choice, it’s an encouraging sign that Mr. Obama even considers moving forward from the blind partisanship of Mr. Holder.

The test of such partisanship for Republicans will come when Sen. Mitch McConnell becomes the majority leader in January. He’ll have to decide whether to set aside the “nuclear option” rules that Senate Democrats wrote to enable Mr. Obama to install highly partisan nominees by a simple majority vote, contrary to long-held Senate tradition.

A group of conservatives last week urged their colleagues to retain the partisan rules, to rub it in the face of Democrats. “Make no mistake,” they wrote, “reviving the filibuster for nominations would significantly reduce, if not eliminate, the probability that the most qualified and most committed constitutionalists would be nominated or confirmed in a future Republican administration.”

The old filibuster rule, enabling a strong Republican voice in the selection of federal judges, had survived for years, and when Mr. Reid trashed it, the helpless Republicans said many high-minded things about the importance of doing the right thing. Once the new senators are installed in January, and Republicans will have more than enough votes to block any nominee, there will be a temptation to “do it unto others before they do it unto you,” in anticipation of a Republican president two years hence.

Mr. Obama pushed through dozens of radical nominees using this dubious power, over the righteous cries of Republicans. It may be tempting to keep the dubious rules long enough to put in place as many constitutional conservatives as possible to balance the radicals Mr. Obama put on the bench. But if the rules were dubious when the Democrats wrote them, the same rules will be dubious when the Republicans write them.

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