Eric Holder’s legal mercies have typically been reserved for Clinton donors and unrepentant terrorists, but his decision yesterday to step down as attorney general of the United States after nearly six years is an act of mercy toward the American public.
In an administration characterized by outsized misadventures — from the use of the nation’s tax bureau to suppress political opponents to the use of secret waiting lists at government hospitals that killed American servicemen — Eric Holder managed to make his Justice Department a source of special, nay, historic attention: In June 2012, Holder became the first U.S. attorney general to be held in contempt by the House of Representatives. He earned every vote.
Achieving “justice” via the Justice Department may be an intrinsically unlikely prospect, but none of Holder’s recent predecessors — Janet Reno, John Ashcroft, Michael Mukasey, even the much-maligned Alberto Gonzales — exhibited his sheer contempt for the rule of law. Much to his preference was employing the law for political purposes; or, when necessary, dispensing with the law completely.
The latter was largely Holder’s policy as chief legal counsel to the president. The duty of the attorney general has historically been to advise against unconstitutional or illegal activity; Holder instead regularly aided and abetted it. When the president unilaterally delayed deportations for a select group of illegal immigrants, Holder concocted specious legal rationales to justify it. Regular slap-downs from the Supreme Court — on the president’s unconstitutional NLRB appointees, on his contraception mandate, on his unconstitutional effort to control ministerial hiring — have proven Holder’s legal work insupportable.
Nowhere was Holder’s rank partisanship more clearly on display than on issues of race: for instance, his refusal to prosecute the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation — despite video evidence of truncheon-wielding men warding voters away from a Philadelphia polling station in November 2008. Those whose political expression was inhibited in Philadelphia were not, Holder later suggested to the House Oversight Committee, “my people” — and thus apparently did not deserve the protection of the law. This from the lips of the nation’s chief law-enforcement officer. Meanwhile, Holder dismissed his critics as racists, eager to destroy him and the president because “we’re both African American.” This same “nation of cowards” was, by Holder’s reckoning, responsible for the voter-identification laws that his Justice Department has worked stridently — and largely unsuccessfully — to suppress in North Carolina, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.
Nor was it just Klan types in the Badger State that Holder eyed suspiciously. In May 2013 his Justice Department seized the phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters, and Fox News’s James Rosen revealed that the department had monitored his phone calls and e-mails.
Meanwhile, Holder opted to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the September 11 attacks, and his co-defendants in federal court in New York rather than in military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay — a practice that blurs the line between crimes and acts of war.
All of the above has been astonishing — but utterly predictable. To those with eyes to see, it was clear even before his confirmation that Holder was not suited to the role of the nation’s lead law-enforcement officer. As deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton, for instance, Holder “leaned” toward the pardon of fugitive and Clinton donor Marc Rich, and advocated clemency for 16 terrorists from the Puerto Rican FALN. But he still met with plaudits from a number of Republican senators.
In the coming months, those senators will have the chance to try again, as the Senate votes on a successor. Republicans should use every opportunity to push for a nominee whose first obligation is to the law — although the prospects of securing such a nominee from this administration are slim.
As for Holder, his time in the spotlight may not be over. The congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, and other dubious Department of Justice activities, continues, and Holder may — and likely should — find himself facing further congressional inquiry.
Regardless, the end of Holder’s death grip on law enforcement at the federal level is long overdue. Perhaps now the Justice Department can get back to delivering actual justice.