Resigning Attorney General Eric Holder was hailed Thursday by President Barack Obama and Democrats for doing a “superb” job, but his divisive tenure as the nation’s top law enforcement officer also earned him criticism from conservatives and some liberals alike.
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Los Angeles, hailed Holder’s work, saying he “displayed unshakable leadership and commitment to keeping Americans safe from the threat of terrorism, prosecuting perpetrators of violent crimes and working tirelessly to defend the civil rights of all Americans.
“From the tragedy in Ferguson to his efforts to protect the right to vote, Attorney General Holder has been steady, calm and resolute in ensuring the American people that justice will prevail,” he said.
Holder, 63, is expected to remain on the job until a successor is named and confirmed by the Senate. Obama hailed him for his work prosecuting terrorism cases while overseeing a reduction in crime nationwide and protecting civil rights.
But Holder also has also drawn drew criticism, notably from Republicans, particularly when he declined to provide Congress with documents related to the failed “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking operation, leading to a congressional contempt vote.
“Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history and, in a vote supported by 17 Democratic House members, has the dubious historic distinction of being the first attorney general held in criminal contempt by the U.S. House of Representatives,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R- Vista, said. “Time and again, Eric Holder administered justice as the political activist he describes himself as instead of an unbiased law enforcement official.”
Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Holder effectively eroded confidence in the legal system.
“Through strong-arming reporters, practically ignoring high level wrongdoing, blocking his own agency Inspector General’s access to information, and overseeing a Department that attempted to stonewall Congressional oversight with denials of what is now established fact, Attorney General Holder abused his office and failed to uphold the values of our Constitution,” he said.
Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the civil rights group has worked in an “especially close” capacity with Holder in the past several years, and commended the nation’s top federal prosecutor for his championing of the Voting Rights Act.
Romero said Holder sued more police departments for the use of excessive force and racial profiling than any other attorney general, led the fight to help end mass incarceration and made such criminal justice changes as working for indigent defense, advocating for clemency for people incarcerated for nonviolent offenses and working for the passage of the Fair Sentencing Act and the Smarter Sentencing Act.
“However, we’ve had profound disagreements with the attorney general on national security issues,” Romero said. “During his tenure, DOJ approved the drone killing of an American far away from any battlefield, approved … mass surveillance programs … and presided over more leak prosecutions than all previous Justice Departments combined. We acknowledge, nonetheless, that he fought, albeit unsuccessfully, to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in federal criminal courts rather than in flawed military commissions.”
The names of two California political figures have already surfaced in talk of a replacement — most notably state Attorney General Kamala Harris. Despite such talk, Harris said she is focused on her current job.
“I am honored to even be mentioned, but intend to continue my work for the people of California as attorney general,” she said. “I am focused on key public safety issues including transnational gangs, truancy and recidivism.”
University of California President Janet Napolitano, who served alongside Holder when she was the U.S. Homeland Security secretary, is also former attorney general and U.S. Attorney in Arizona.
She said Holder “leaves behind an outstanding record in seeking justice and equal rights for all Americans.”
“He fought tirelessly to honor our Constitution and to protect civil rights across the nation,” Napolitano said. “It is clear, in my view, that the nation has been enriched from Eric’s decision to enter into public service. I wish him the best as he transitions back to his life as a private citizen.”
— City News Service