By Roman Orsini
On Thursday, Sept. 25, President Barack Obama announced the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder. Holder will remain in his post at the Department of Justice, (DOJ), until a successor is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, a process that may take until the end of this year. Holder voluntarily made the decision to leave for personal reasons.
Holder has served in the Obama administration since its formation in 2009 and was the first African American to serve as the nation’s top law enforcement official. During the second Clinton administration, Holder also served as the deputy attorney general, the second highest position at the DOJ.
Holder’s tenure as attorney general has derived mixed views among political leaders in Washington and the American public. The politicized nature of his legacy casts him as a controversial leader in the spectrum of opinion.
Supporters of Holder point to his career-long efforts in advancing civil rights causes. “(Of his contributions), defending all Americans’ right to vote; making sentencing and other aspects of the criminal justice system fairer and more color-blind; protecting immigrants from undue harassment; and hastening full equality for gay and lesbian Americans” were some of his key ambitions, according to the Washington Post.
Efforts under Holder’s Justice Department sought to reform sentencing laws for criminals, to ensure a fairer path to justice. The DOJ also pursued marriage equality efforts by not upholding the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which gave states the right to decide the legality of same sex marriage. Many LGBT rights advocates support such a shift in policy, while many oppose the power of the federal government to intervene in such decisions.
Detractors point to Holder’s selective enforcement of existing federal law and political biases while carrying out his office. Following the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington last year, Holder signaled that the DOJ would not prosecute drug users in those states. The DOJ would generally overlook marijuana related prosecutions at the federal level.
Holder oversaw a 2009 sting operation, Fast and Furious, which involved the transfer of an estimated 1,400 automatic firearms to Mexican drug cartels, according to CNN. The purpose of the operation was to track and apprehend cartel members by allowing these guns to “walk” through their organizations. Yet, the operation ended tragically in 2010 when a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed by a gun traced to the program.
Following a bipartisan vote by the House of Representatives in 2012, Holder became the first cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress, over his failure to release documents pertaining to Fast and Furious.
Darrell Issa, the Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee has said that “Eric Holder is the most divisive U.S. Attorney General in modern history.” In spite of Holder’s resignation, the contempt citation from Congress remains in effect — targeting him and the DOJ.