Eric Holder might have been the poster child for partisanship.
He’ll stay on the job as U.S. attorney general until the Senate confirms his successor, but the time has come to say something about his time at the Justice Department and to wonder what lies ahead for what is certain to be a stormy confirmation process.
I’ll just say it up front: Holder has been a great attorney general.
That doesn’t mean his time at Justice has been free of mistakes. He’s made some.
Chief among the blunders is likely the Fast and Furious gun-tracking program that strangely put firearms in the hands of dangerous drug-runners, who then used the weapons to bring considerable misery to federal law enforcement authorities.
Congressional Republicans, of course, jumped all over the Fast and Furious program as a monumental failure. It was meant to allow gun merchants to sell firearms to drug dealers with the hope of tracking their movement. It didn’t work.
Congress sought to get him to testify about Fast and Furious and he just enraged the GOP more by refusing to cooperate fully.
So, that project has failed.
Another mistake was Holder’s decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act when it stood as federal law. Whether one agrees with the law that essentially prohibited same-sex marriage or not, the AG took an oath to defend the laws of the land, no matter what. He failed in that regard. DOMA, though, later was thrown out by the Supreme Court, which made the refusal to defend it more or less a moot point.
However, Holder has served as a civil rights champion. He has elevated the discussion of equal protection for all Americans to a level not heard since the days of the late Robert F. Kennedy, when he was AG from 1961 to 1964.
As the nation’s first African-American attorney general, Holder has standing on this issue that none of his predecessors enjoyed. Holder recommitted the federal government to civil rights when he went to Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of the shooting death of a young black man by a white police officer.
Politico reports: “Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont praised Holder for ‘restor[ing] the Civil Rights Division to its historical mission’ and declared that ‘his dedication to defending Americans’ voting rights, at a time when these constitutional rights are under attack, has been supremely important.’”
Holder is seen by his foes as a polarizing figure. Perhaps he is, but that’s more a function of the divisions in American society he revealed by his commitment to creating a more just society for all Americans.
So, what lies ahead? As with virtually everything involving the Obama administration, I’m guessing we’re going to see a brisk challenge to whomever the president nominates to succeed Holder.
I’m hoping the next attorney general will get the thorough vetting he or she deserves, but that the Senate will act quickly to get that individual on the job.