© Josh Sager – September 2014
Attorney General Eric Holder has been the top law enforcement agent of the United States since Obama’s election in 2008. Officially, Holder was confirmed to his office on February 2nd, 2009, and he has been an active member of Obama’s team ever since. In particular, Holder has been a very public enemy of the right wing, with them accusing him of everything, from working with the New Black Panthers to scare white voters, to giving guns to drug cartels in an attempt to justify gun control.
Last week, Holder announced that he has decided to resign his post, effective as soon as a replacement can be found. While nobody but Holder himself knows exactly why this resignation is happening, there has been speculation that Holder may not be in the best of health (he was hospitalized this year because of lightheadedness and shortness of breath), as well as speculation that he is simply sick of the oppositional political climate of Washington.
Unfortunately for Holder, he may not be leaving Washington as soon as he would hope. The legislative gridlock currently living in Washington makes appointing a successor to his office largely impossible until after the coming elections, and the results of those elections might very well make appointments impossible (if the GOP takes the Senate majority and retains the Congress).
Regardless of when he actually leaves office, a time will soon come when the American public will need to take inventory of Holder’s term as Attorney General and assess his conduct. This will have to be measured, separate from those who would reflexively support everything that he does because of his association to Obama, or reflexively demonize him because he is a Democrat.
Objectively, Holder’s conduct in office was incredibly mixed and complex. He made many good choices in the areas of race, drugs, and voting, but he also made several terrible decisions in the area of national security that have had real consequences on the American people.
Protecting Voting Rights: Eric Holder has been a strong advocate for voting rights protections and has made every effort to crack down on Republican voter suppression. Unfortunately, these efforts have been largely unsuccessful, as the Supreme Court made a truly horrible ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, where they eviscerated the Voting Rights Act. Despite this, he has directed the DOJ to investigate voter suppression under different statutes of the Voting Rights Act (the success of these efforts is impossible to judge until after the next election cycle).
Reducing Nonviolent Drug Sentences: Holder has supported reducing penalties for non-violent drug offenders and reforming mandatory minimum sentences. These offenders compose a significant portion of the prison population (over half of federal prisoners are in jail for drugs, many of whom have no history of violence) and cutting their sentences would save the government millions of dollars a year with little risk of making the streets more dangerous.
Facilitating Civil Rights Protests: Unfortunately, Eric Holder’s term in office saw numerous racially-charged protests, focusing on young black males being killed under questionable circumstances—the best known of these cases include the Trayvon Martin shooting and the Michael Brown police killing. Holder’s office did a good job providing federal pressure on local police and supervising the situations to make sure that there were no civil rights violations. Additionally, he deployed the Community Relations Services to the protests surrounding these situations, making efforts to keep the protests peaceful and safe.
Declining to Defend DOMA: The Defense of Marriage Act was a Clinton-era law that prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriages in relation to federal benefits and gave states the right to ignore gay marriages performed in other states. It was an affront to equality under the law that was struck down by the Supreme Court in the 2013 case US v. Windsor. During the legal proceedings that led up to this SCOTUS case, Eric Holder directed the DOJ not to defend DOMA in court—in effect, he recognized that it was a bad law and made no efforts to protect it when it was being attacked in court.
Justifying Extra-Judicial Killings: Arguably the worst thing that Eric Holder has done during his term in office has been his support of targeted killing of suspected terrorists, even if they happen to be American citizens. In 2012, he made a comment to students at Northwestern Law, where he argued that “due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security.” In short, he is arguing that the “due process” required to execute an American can be fulfilled by a secret group of unelected bureaucrats getting together and ageing that a person is a terrorist threat who cannot be easily detained—there is no possibility of appeal (as there is no trial), no public airing of evidence, or even a formal indictment. Holder has backed this opinion up with his actions, and has stood by while the Obama administration has assassinated at least three Americans.
Persecuting Journalists: Eric Holder’s DOJ has obtained search warrants for the communications of journalists using the legal argument that their very actions of reporting could be violation of the law (ex. in the case of Fox “reporter” James Rosen). This is an extremely dangerous argument that threatens to de-facto censor the press—if journalists have to worry about prosecution if they cover certain issues, many will not take the risk and will avoid covering things that the government doesn’t like covered. This devastates the intent of the 1st Amendment and is the first step down a very slippery slope.
Declining to go After the Big Banks: In the aftermath of the great recession, the DOJ declined to prosecute the bankers and banks that engaged in systemic fraud and almost caused the destruction of our economy. In lieu of criminal action, the banks agreed to pay fines as part of settlement deals, and the bankers were allowed to walk away with their bonuses. This refusal to prosecute clear fraud and hold the people who stole trillions of dollars from the American people was a betrayal and a serious miscarriage of justice.