President Barack Obama’s nomination Nov. 8 of veteran prosecutor Loretta Lynch for the position of attorney general may mark a bigger social milestone than his 2008 election to the White House.

If confirmed, Lynch, the U.S. Attorney from Brooklyn, N.Y., will join California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey as one of the most nationally prominent and influential African American women in the legal profession.

Since the nation’s founding, such local, state and federal positions have traditionally been occupied by White men. Political allegiance usually takes a back seat to serving as any region’s highest law enforcement officer. This happens despite the fact that California and many other states have, since the beginning of the new century, made decided shifts to more socially inclusive political philosophies, and that the Obama Administration advocacy of the disenfranchised may lie in stark contrast to the newly elected conservative congressional majority.

Some analysts are calling Lynch a surprising pick since she is not particularly well known. If confirmed, she’ll be the second woman to serve as U.S. Attorney General following Janet Reno.

Lynch: Quiet effectiveness

The 55-year-old Harvard Law School graduate, a respected prosecutor within the circle of confidants of outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, is known as a tough arbiter when it comes to prosecuting white-collar crimes as well as being a staunch advocate of diverting first-time drug offenders into rehab, and focusing on job diversion programs as opposed to the popular “Three Strikes” philosophy of punishment. In a possible hint that Lynch came highly recommended by Holder, the nation’s first Black attorney general, she sat with him last week at a Brooklyn ceremony highlighting the efforts to divert the aforementioned low-level drug offenders into “drug court” and/or rehab.

Lynch, a native of Greensboro, N.C., and appointed by President Obama in 2010 as U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York., came to prominence during her second tenure at one of the nation’s busiest federal districts. Her office won convictions in a thwarted al-Qaida-sanctioned plot to attack New York City subways in 2009, and she once charged the head of a Mexican drug cartel with 12 counts of murder. Lynch was a chief assistant U.S. attorney and was a member of the trial team that sent former New York City policeman Justin Volpe to prison for 30 years without the possibility of parole after he was found guilty of shoving a broomstick through the colon of Haitian immigrant Abner Louima in a Brooklyn precinct restroom in 1997. More recently, Lynch’s office brought tax evasion charges against Rep. Michael Grimm (R-New York) who is scheduled to go on trial next year.

Lynch was first appointed and served from 1991-2001 then left the office for private practice and was re-appointed to the same position in the eastern district in 2010.

Behind the scenes, Lynch has won respect for dedicating much of her career to law enforcement without the desire for added publicity. Her supporters are vocal about her ability to capably serve in the nation’s capitol.

The fact that she would be an immediate inspiration to millions of American girls—particularly African Americans—has past coworkers singing her praises. Regarding her rather unassuming personal nature, the New York Times last weekend described her as “… mild, unflappable and somewhat unknowable” noting that these attributes are a “scarce commodity in a city full of larger-than-life characters who conduct themselves like political campaigns.”

President Obama said Lynch is someone “who doesn’t look to make headlines” and who is “not about splash, but rather, substance.”

Andrew Weismann, a former federal prosecutor and colleague of Lynch, and now a professor at New York University, told the Associated Press last week that the veteran prosecutor has typically shunned the bright lights of national publicity in favor of quiet, unassuming service to the Brooklyn community. “I don’t think that’s why she’s in government, and that’s a real admirable quality,” he said of his erstwhile colleague. Practically all of the attorneys who have worked along side her and those on the opposition say that Lynch readily accepts the pressure to mete out fair justice while “… remaining unflappable” according to Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson. “She has intelligence, dignity and the ability to be fair, but also tough,” added Thompson who teamed with Lynch on the Louima case. “She’s cool under fire.”

Lynch has a compelling story that suggests a deep personal commitment to civil rights …but she rarely talks about it.

When she was a girl in segregated Greensboro, Lynch would attend church meetings with her father to organize anti-Jim Crow boycotts. She was reportedly inspired by stories from her grandfather, a sharecropper in the 1930s, who helped provide moral—and some monetary assistance—to persons who ran afoul of the law and had no recourse under the Jim Crow system. In later years, Lynch would frequently speak about “the power the law had over your life” and what encouraged her to become a lawyer.

In one speech not long after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1984, she recounted the story of her great-great-grandfather, a freed man who reentered slavery to marry the woman who became her great-great grandmother. She also described her mother’s history of “picking cotton while attending high school” so that her daughter would not have to do so.

Lynch has said that during her early years in the courtroom, she was often mistaken as a court reporter. Lynch is reportedly not a firebrand and is said to frequently demure from speaking at the podium during press conferences.

Lacey: Helping the mentally ill

In July, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey told county supervisors that “gaps in services and communication breakdowns” between agencies have resulted in more mentally ill persons being detained, arrested and sentenced. She’s spearheading a group of leaders from different public agencies countywide to focus on expanding diversion programs, calling the jailing of the mentally ill a “moral question.”

“The use of the jail as a mental health ward is insufficient, ineffective and in many cases it is inhumane,” said Lacey who was among the first county office holders to welcome new Sheriff Jim McDonnell on election night. The two have been long-time friends and each has vowed to implement better strategies regarding the incarceration of mentally ill persons. “It is inhumane to the people who are mentally ill, because we’re punishing them for being too sick to solve their problem by themselves.”

Her testimony this year before the board of supervisors prompted Mark Ridley-Thomas (Second District) to urge his colleagues to set aside $20 million for expanded mental health diversion programs. She also recommend training for all criminal justice officials—including police officers, prosecutors and judges—on how to better handle people with mental illnesses. “What resources that are available now should be at the top of the list,” Lacey said. This may include so-called “stabilization centers” where people undergoing a mental health crisis could be referred instead of sending them to the county’s overcrowded emergency rooms.

The D.A.’s office this year has tackled a number of “quality-of-life” issues among county residents that have garnered recognition including receipt of an award in October for its Elder Financial Abuse Outreach campaign launched in 2013. Lacey was prompted to delve further into elder financial abuse when her mother, Addie Phillips, 77, was the victim of a telephone scam. The two appeared in a related public service announcement on Mother’s Day.

“A man identifying himself as a police officer told my mother to send money overseas to bail out her grandson, and to not tell anyone,” Lacey said. “The problem was her grandson wasn’t in jail and the caller wasn’t a police officer but a crook. Educating seniors on how to prevent financial scams is a top priority for my administration.”

In April, Lacey sponsored legislation on the release of sexually violent predators (in response to the release of serial rapist Christopher Hubbert into the Antelope Valley), and her office is tackling the increasing rates of truancy in the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster. “Keeping students in school is a community effort,” Lacey said in March. “Often, when students are not in school they are getting into trouble. That’s why we’re marshaling resources to get children back into the classroom.” Also this year, Lacey’s office unveiled a new program aimed at helping young victims of sex trafficking, noting that minors who engage in sex for pay are victims and not criminals. “We believe that we should help these children, not detain them,” in discussing her “First Step Diversion Program” that would recommend probation instead of a jail term. They rolled out offices in Compton and in Sylmar to specifically address the growing problem of teenage sex workers.

Born and reared locally in the Crenshaw District of Los Angeles, Lacey began her career in the district attorney’s office in 1986 and was among a team of attorneys to successfully prosecute the first race-based hate crime murder in the United States (People vs. Rojas, Bryant and Colwell, 1999, in the conviction of “Nazi low-riders” in the murder of a Black man in the Antelope Valley).

Lacey leads the largest local prosecutorial office in the nation, numbering about 1,000 attorneys, 300 investigators and another 800 persons working as support staff. Her office last year prosecuted almost 75,000 felony defendants and an additional 113,000 misdemeanor defendants.

Harris: A consumer watchdog

California Attorney General Kamala Harris this month won reelection to a second term in Sacramento. Harris, the state’s first female and first Black attorney general, in 2011 made national headlines after taking aim at the subprime mortgage crisis and reached a settlement against five banks—Ally, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citi Bank and Chase—securing $12 billion in debt reduction for California’s homeowners and $26 billion overall. Harris initially walked out of the talks because she believed the deal was too lenient. The sum helped to fund legal services for struggling homeowners, and also forgave the debt of more than 23,000 homeowners who were forced to agree to sell their homes for less than the value of the mortgage loan.

The housing crash inspired Harris in 2012 to introduce to the state legislature the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights, a package of several bills that would ultimately provide homeowners with “more options when fighting to keep their home,” she said then. The bill passed the state legislature in 2013 and also gave the attorney general more power to investigate and prosecute financial fraud, as well as to convene special grand juries to prosecute multi-county crimes instead of the old method of tackling single crimes county-by-county. Today, banks and servicers within the home mortgage industry are required to provide homeowners with a single point of contact when questions may arise regarding mortgage payments and/or staving off foreclosure.

Harris has been a lifelong opponent of the death penalty. She opts to review each case individually. This philosophy was put to the test while serving as district attorney of San Francisco, when Bay Area resident and known gang member David Hill was convicted in 2004 of second-degree murder of San Francisco police officer Issac Espinoza. Harris advocated life without parole rather than the death penalty. Her position drew protest from the San Francisco Police Officer’s Association as well as from Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

In a second instance of going against the prevailing advocacy of the death penalty, Harris suggested life for Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant and alleged MS-13 gang member, for the 2009 murder of Bay Area resident Tony Bologna and his sons Michael and Matthew. Harris has said she believes life without parole is a better, more cost-effective punishment.

Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit in San Francisco, focusing on hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and teens in secondary school. She once convened a national conference to confront the “gay-transgender panic defense” which has been used to justify violent hate crimes, most famously used as part of the infamous “Twinkie Defense” of the late San Francisco Supervisor Dan White who in 1978 murdered Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk who was gay. Harris is an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage in California and opposed both Proposition 22 and Proposition 8.

In 2004, the National Urban League honored Harris as a “Woman of Power,” and she is also a recipient of the Thurgood Marshall Award (2005) from the National Black Prosecutors Association. As a vocal supporter of amnesty for illegal immigrants, Harris has supported San Francisco’s and the Los Angeles Police Department’s policy of not inquiring about immigration status while in the process of a criminal investigation. “It is important that immigrants be able to talk with law enforcement without fear of deportation,” she one said.

Today Harris is taking on chronic truancy among public school students—a prominent issue during her re-election campaign. She told KGO-TV in San Francisco last month that she would advocate treating “habitual and chronic truancy among children in elementary school as a crime committed by the parents of truant children.” Harris said during her re-election campaign this year that she believes there is a direct connection between habitual truancy in grade school and crime later in life.

A nurturing nature

The rise of these three women into the executive ranks of jurisprudence is not mere coincidence. Shannon Humphrey, president of the Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, believes the nation is realizing the benefit of a generation of World War II Blacks who sent their children to college and is witnessing that faith in them pays off handsomely, not only in the legal area, but in a wide spectrum of professions. The three legal minds may not represent any specific advocacy that women might have toward the disenfranchised, but each has a demonstrated history of focusing on resolving issues of societal inequality.

“It is in the nature of women to be sensitive to issues of inequality,” Humphrey said. “Often, when women reach a position where we can address these issues, we do so. It may come from the nurturing aspect of being a woman.”