Why You Should Care About The Attorney General's Resignation

On Thursday afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. formally announced his resignation. Speaking about his decision at the White House, an emotional Holder said the job had been “the greatest honor of [his] professional life.” He intends to remain in the position until a successor is found.
After nearly six years in the post, Holder is one of the longest-serving members of the Obama cabinet and the fourth longest-tenured attorney general in history. Holder has long said he’d leave before the end of Obama’s second term, and officials say he’d been increasingly “adamant” about his decision of late. In February, he suffered a health scare that sent him to the hospital. The Washington Post claims that close friends of Holder’s said he “had been exhausted by his job at times and had earlier considered leaving several times, especially last summer and fall, when he was facing pillorying from Hill Republicans.”
The 63-year-old Holder made history when he was named the first black attorney general by Obama in 2008. He’s been lauded for many successes since, including his sweeping advances in civil rights and justice-system causes, such as striking down Southern voting restrictions that unfairly affected minorities; supporting gay marriage; lobbying Congress to take a softer stance on minor prison sentences; and promising understandably furious communities “a fair and thorough” investigation into the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO last month.
Parts of his tenure have also been stormy, and he’s frequently raised a (mostly Republican) hackle or three — see 2012’s ATF gunwalking debacle, in which Holder earned the dubious distinction of becoming the first sitting member of the Cabinet to be held in contempt of Congress. He also stirred things up in 2013 by writing a letter to Congress that publicly acknowledged four Americans who were killed by the U.S. during the government's classified attacks on terrorists.
But throughout, the measures he has enacted have had direct effects on women and minorities, and those effects have been largely positive. Here are five that stand out.
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Photo: Rex USA.
He Fought Domestic Violence

On September 22, Holder announced that the Justice Department had picked four sites to receive a total of $2.6 million in grants to create “promising models aimed at reducing domestic violence homicides.” It’s clear that Holder takes the issue to heart — as he said in a 2012 speech, “As the father of two teenage girls, this work remains both a personal and professional priority.”

And, that’s not the only example of his commitment to preventing violence against women. In 2011, he announced the formation of the Violence Against Women Federal and Tribal Prosecution Task Force, formed to help offset violence against American Indian women, which happens at epidemic rates: “In 2005, Congress found that one in three American Indian women are raped during their lifetimes.”

As Holder said then about the task force’s launch, “We know too well that tribal communities face unique law enforcement challenges and are struggling to reverse unacceptable rates of violence against women and children. The creation of the…Task Force has been a priority for me since my visit with tribal leaders last year.”
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Photo: Rex USA.
He Protected Voting Rights For Low-Income Women

When he took the helm of the Justice Department, Holder made revamping the Civil Rights Division one of his most immediate goals — and it worked. Under his leadership, the Division successfully filed lawsuits challenging South Carolina’s and Texas’ super-restrictive voting laws in 2012. He also “joined lawsuits challenging new voting restrictions in Ohio and Wisconsin.”

His aim? To block the implementation of these laws, which would have ended up adversely affecting low-income women and minority voters. Carrie Davis, executive director of the Ohio League of Women Voters, appreciated Holder’s efforts, saying, “It fits the Department of Justice’s increasing involvement in voting-rights lawsuits around the nation.” And, speaking to the League of Women Voters at a 2012 convention, Holder returned the compliment, saying, “Your mission has never been more important.”
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Photo: Courtesy of REX
He Worked To Keep Families Together

This policy might seem to impact men more directly (as you probably know, our jails are currently overflowing, mainly with guys — in 2010, there were 113,000 female offenders locked up in state and federal facilities, compared to a whopping 1.5 million male inmates). But, the effects of all those men being out of their families’ lives for extended periods certainly don’t make life easier for the women left behind, many of whom must financially support and raise their children alone.

In the Justice Department’s 2013 annual report to the Sentencing Commission, Holder and co. demanded reform, especially in mandatory sentencing for minor drug offenses. In an effort to keep more people out of prison, he recommended jail time for only the most violent offenders. In January 2014, the Commission voted to propose amendments that would include possible reductions to the sentencing guidelines for federal drug trafficking offenses.
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Photo: Rex USA.
He Went After Discriminatory And Abusive Police Departments

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division made groundbreaking reform agreements with various national police departments to help address problems such as the use of “excessive force; unlawful stops, searches or arrests; and policing that unlawfully discriminates against minority groups or women.”

One of the bigger departments that Holder took on belonged to New Orleans. In a city still reeling from the aftershock of Katrina, Holder demanded the force make itself transparent and begin posting most of its previously-sealed records online. He also prosecuted New Orleans officers for their parts in fatal shootings immediately post-Katrina.

Issues around police mistreatment were meaningful for Holder partially because he had experience with them himself (he remembers being pulled over twice while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, as well as being stopped by cops while running in DC). He empathized with the men and women of color who simply no longer trust men in uniform, especially in the wake of the horrific shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO last month. As Holder said at a community college in August, “I understand that mistrust. I am the Attorney General of the United States. But I am also a black man.”

Of course, it’s not just black men who are unfairly targeted by the cops — minority women get it, too. And, in 2011, under Holder’s Justice Department, a violent cop in Missouri who robbed and sexually assaulted multiple women was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
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Holder shakes hands with a student in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Rex USA.
He Stood With Mike Brown’s Family In Ferguson
One of Holder’s more poignant human acts happened just last month, after the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. After heading to the scene to assess the devastating situation on the ground, Holder went to meet Brown’s grieving parents. The couple reportedly felt better after their sit-down with the Attorney General, with Brown Sr. noting that Holder “says he’s not going to stop until they help us all the way through.”

Mike Brown’s mom, Lesley McSpadden, was a bit more reflective, saying, “You can read a person and when you’re looking at them and they’re looking at you in your eyes, it puts some trust back there that you lost.”

No matter what was said or left unsaid during that intimate conversation, it seems clear that Holder went to Ferguson not only as a cabinet official there to do his job, but also as a parent — promising to help another set of parents find justice for their boy.

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