Monday, April 27, 2015

Attorney General Eric Holder

The US Department of Justice posted the video above Friday (US time), and described it as “Attorney General Eric Holder Legacy Video”. It’s a nine-minute look at the first African American to serve as US Attorney General, and his career highlights.

Chad Griffin, the head of the Human Rights Campaign, is shown saying that Holder was “the LGBT rights movement’s Robert Kennedy”, chiefly because as Attorney General, Holder refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense [sic] of Marriage Act.

In his farewell remarks at the Justice Department (excerpts in the AP video below), Holder said:
“Civil rights: The LGBT community is something that I have tried to focus on. I think that is the civil rights issue of our time. This whole question of same-sex marriage, which will be resolved by the [Supreme] Court over the next couple months or so, hopefully that decision will go in a way that I think is consistent with who we say we are as a people.”
Holder also fought strongly for voting rights and to reform the criminal justice system. He also successfully prosecuted terrorists in civilian courts, something his Republican opponents, arguing for prosecution in military courts, said was impossible to do.

Holder ended up with an intensely confrontational relationship with Republicans in Congress. Many of them hated him as much as they hated President Obama, and also for similar reasons (racism chief among them). However, in an era in which Republicans used parliamentary procedures to persecute the Obama Administration, they use the controversy over “the fast and the furious” for partisan political gain. In the end, no evidence was ever found to implicate Holder himself. Indeed, nothing that the Republicans trotted out on any issue ever amounted to anything more that purely partisan grandstanding to benefit themselves and their party, all while wasting hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on their partisan crusades.

None of which is to suggest that Holder was perfect, because he absolutely wasn’t. His department’s aggressive investigation of leaks of national security information to journalists was nothing less than a fundamental threat to freedom of the press, something one would have expected during the Bush/Cheney regime. To this day, it’s unclear how much of that was under his direction, but what clearly was, was troubling on its own.

Still, when the history of Holder’s tenure is written, I’m certain that it won’t be focusing on “the fast and the furious”, and it won’t be about investigating leaks to journalists. Instead, in terms of legacy alone, it really will be LGBT rights and the fight for marriage equality. Holder’s actions—or, in the case of DOMA, inaction—helped create the monumental shift that makes 50-state marriage equality an eventual certainty, hopefully as soon as the middle of this year.

For an oppressed minority that's had so few champions, especially in the Justice Department, that's an admirable legacy.

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