By Massimo Calabresi
November 13, 2014

The top U.S. prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, in Brooklyn, Lynch was one of the few names on President Obama’s short list without close ties to the White House. If confirmed, she would be the first female African-American Attorney General.

• CLAIMS TO FAME

After years as a midlevel prosecutor, Lynch gained national attention for her part in the successful prosecution of two New York City cops who beat and sodomized Abner Louima in 1997. Bill Clinton named Lynch to lead the Brooklyn U.S. prosecutor’s office in 1999. After a stint in the private sector, the Harvard Law School graduate was unanimously confirmed for the job again after Obama nominated her in 2010.

• CURRENT CHALLENGES

In upcoming confirmation hearings, the GOP will question Lynch on trying terrorists in U.S. courts, cutting plea deals with big banks and Obama’s plan to halt deportation of some illegal immigrants.

• BIGGEST CHAMPION

AG Eric Holder calls Lynch “a dedicated public servant and a leader of considerable experience and consummate skill.”

• BIGGEST CRITIC

GOP Senator Ted Cruz says Lynch, on immigration, must declare “whether or not she believes the President’s executive amnesty plans are constitutional and legal.”

• CAN SHE DO IT?

Lynch’s confirmation is unlikely to be derailed. Her real challenges will come as AG, when she must balance the demands of civil libertarians with ongoing national-security programs, cement Obama’s civil rights record and field calls for investigations from a Republican-controlled Congress. She will be judged, says GOP Senator Chuck Grassley, on whether she is “a politically independent voice for the American people.”

–MASSIMO CALABRESI

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the November 24, 2014 issue of TIME.

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