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Gun Lobbyists Seek Extraordinary Veto Power Over Attorney General Nominee

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced felony plea deals and multi-billion-dollar fines for a cartel of bankers on Wednesday, but the penalties and pleas are less than meets the eye. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced felony plea deals and multi-billion-dollar fines for a cartel of bankers on Wednesday, but the penalties and pleas are less than meets the eye. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG

A proposed letter prepared by a national gun organization calls upon senators to impose an extraordinary litmus test on President Obama’s nominee to lead the Department of Justice — unless Attorney General-nominee Loretta Lynch makes specific promises to the gun lobby, “her nomination should be opposed.” The letter, which was first flagged by the National Law Journal’s Mike Sacks, was authored by the group Gun Owners of America.

Gun groups have not exactly been shy in opposing President Obama’s nominees. The National Rifle Association, which is actually perceived as relatively moderate compared to Gun Owners of America, ran attack ads against former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-IN) because Lugar voted to confirm “both of Barack Obama’s anti-gun nominees to the Supreme Court.” Obama’s nomination of Caitlin Halligan to a top federal appeals court failed after the NRA opposed her nomination.

When gun lobbyists opposed Halligan, as well as Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, however, they pointed to past actions by these nominees that they found objectionable. Admittedly, these objections were themselves quite unusual. Sotomayor was opposed, for example, because, as a lower court judge, she followed Supreme Court precedent establishing that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states (that precedent has since been overruled). Halligan was opposed because she once represented a client — the state of New York — that took a position in litigation that the NRA disagrees with.

The Gun Owners of America letter, by contrast, cites nothing in Lynch’s record that makes her objectionable to the gun group. To the contrary, it calls her out as objectionable entirely because she doesn’t have much of a record on guns. Lynch, the letter claims, “has no real paper trail and no indication that she has experience with the broad range of controversies she will face.” It also criticizes her for being unaware of a program known as “Operation Choke Point,” and demands that she “commit to eradicate” a “national gun registry” that the gun lobby group believes that Justice Department is building.

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(Operation Choke Point refers to a Justice Department program that targets financial institutions and payment processors that are believed to help facilitate “mass marketing fraud schemes — including deceptive payday loans, false offers of debt relief, fraudulent health care discount cards, and phony government grants,” according to a Justice Department official. Conservative news sources claim that this program has discouraged banks from doing business with gun dealers.)

This letter, in other words, represents a significant escalation from the tactics gun groups used when they opposed Sotomayor, Kagan and Halligan. Those three nominees, at least, had done something in their past that gun groups found objectionable. Lynch, by contrast, is criticized specifically because she has “no real paper trail” and because “[t]he one thing we know about Loretta Lynch” is that she told a senator that she was not aware of Operation Choke Point. The implication is that, to avoid opposition from gun lobbyists, a nominee cannot simply stay out of controversies that might anger the gun groups. Instead, they must actively build a record supporting the gun groups’ agenda.