A Challenge to Attorney General Eric Holder
US Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to come to Boston on Tuesday to deliver a speech at a civil rights symposium. Since a congressional committee has just recommended that he be cited for contempt of Congress, Holder will no doubt use his speech to try to highlight his record of civil rights, and to deflect controversy about the “Fast and Furious” gun-running program that has landed him in hot water with Congress.
But, in fact, the two issues are connected. Although there is much to praise about Holder’s civil rights record as attorney general, that record is marred by his failure to stand up to the one person with the most power to infringe on rights and liberties: his boss, the president. Meanwhile, deferring to executive power is precisely the thing that might get Holder cited for contempt of Congress.
First the praise. Holder has transformed the widely discredited Justice Department into an agency that often is willing to protect rights of ordinary people. The Justice Department rightly refused to defend the hateful Defense of Marriage Act. It correctly challenged Arizona’s dangerous immigrant-profiling law. And in other civil rights areas — voting rights, police practices, racial justice, and fair sentencing — Holder deserves credit.
On those issues, Holder has remained faithful to a vow he made during his confirmation hearing. Faced with the accusation that his prior experience as a Justice Department official would tempt him to bow to the administration, Holder promised to “do the right thing.”
What is more, Holder testified that the attorney general must take actions without regard to “the impact that it’s going to have on the administration that you serve.” The attorney general, he explained, has to keep his distance from executive branch officials, and “even from the president that the attorney general serves.”