Eric Holder's Legacy-As Nation's First Black Attorney General
On Friday, Eric H. Holder, Jr. delivered a speech at the Voting Rights Brain Trust hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation just one day after announcing his resignation as the Attorney General for the United States.
In his remarks Holder, the frst African-American U.S. Attorney General, reminded the crowd that until his replacement is named, he will remain steadfast in his leadership:
“there remains a great deal that still needs to be done. I have no intention of letting up; I have no intention of slowing down.”
Throughout his speech, Holder highlighted the efforts he has led in the area of voter protection and criminal justice reforms. The two issues are the hallmarks of his nearly six-year tenure and are undoubtedly part of his lasting legacy at the Department of Justice.
Holder made no secret that his experiences as a Black man in America informed his approach and priorities as the head of the Department of Justice. Last year, Holder launched the Smart on Crime Initiative to reform the criminal justice system in an effort to increase fairness and today announced the start of similar effort, the Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative, which will promote systemic reforms to reduce racial and ethnic disparities and develop alternatives to youth incarceration. In January, he announced changes to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that would reserve the harshest sentences relating to drug offenses for the most serious drug traffickers.
In his speech regarding Holder’s resignation on Thursday, President Barack Obama noted that under Holder’s leadership both the crime and incarceration rates decreased.
In the weeks following the killing of Michael Brown, 18, by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer, Holder made an unprecedented visit to the region and announced the still ongoing independent federal investigation into the shooting as well as a probe into the policing practices of the St. Louis Police Department. Understanding the magnitude of the moment and the opportunity it presented for broader reform, last month Holder also announced the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice to eliminate mistrust between police officers in the communities they serve and in order to “diffuse tensions that simmer just below the surface” and give rise to events like those witnessed by the nation in Ferguson.
Holder’s commitment to reforming the criminal justice system is only matched by his persistent advocacy for the protection of voting rights. Holder assured the crowd filled with Black legislators that the Department of Justice will be present at the polls during the 2016 Presidential Elections as they were in the previous one. Despite the United States Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which gutted Section four of the Voting Rights Act, Holder has fled lawsuits challenging voter identifcation laws that tend to disenfranchise minorities, the elderly and those with a low income.
He has also fought redistricting efforts that dilute minority votes and restrictions to early voting. Holder emphasized that he and the Department of Justice will remain vigilant and committed to “equal access to the ballot box.”
His work on voting rights and the criminal justice system are well publicized, but Holder championed for little-known issues that made a significant impact on the lives of marginalized Black Americans.
In 2010, Holder led a landmark settlement for a $1.5 billion in favor
of Black farmers against the Department of Agriculture. The farmers lobbied three White House administrations to receive compensation for decades of discrimination in the administration of federal loan programs for farmers. Holder took a personal stake in the case and fought alongside President Obama to ensure Congress approved the funding of the settlement.
How history will judge Holder’s tenure as attorney general is uncertain, but his impact on the Department of Justice is undeniable. No other person to hold that title in recent
administrations has done more to enforce the Constitution and ensure the civil rights of all.
Stacy M. Allen, Attorney at Law (@SMAllen_Esq)