Eric Holder: Why He's Great, Why He's Awful

Attorney general wins praise on civil rights, criticism on secrecy, national security
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 26, 2014 1:32 PM CDT
Eric Holder: Why He's Great, Why He's Awful
Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.   (AP Photo/Molly Riley)

The announcement of Eric Holder's pending resignation as attorney general has the early assessments of his legacy pouring in. One common theme, as in this editorial by the New York Times: He was terrific on civil rights and criminal-justice reform, but lousy on Wall Street accountability and on the trampling of rights under the excuse of "national security." The editorial ticks off various accomplishments, from same-sex marriage (he torpedoed the Defense of Marriage Act), to his staunch defense of voting rights, to his reform of drug-sentencing laws. His legacy will be defined in a good way by such things, says the editorial, but "it will also be defined by deeply harmful actions—and failures to act—involving issues of national importance." Among other things, the editors call out Holder's defense of the government's right to kill citizens without judicial review, his over-zealous prosecution of leaks, and his approval of the secret monitoring of American journalists. Other views:

  • Too big to jail: Holder secured no big convictions in the nation's financial crisis, writes Roger Parloff at Fortune. This criticism, widely "encapsulated in the phrase 'too big to jail,' is the albatross that threatens to weigh down Holder’s legacy in the business realm."
  • Good riddance: Sure, he's got some good marks on his record, but "Holder’s tenure has been marked by a disturbing mix of duplicity, incompetence, and obliviousness," writes Nick Gillespie at Time. Holder put his loyalty to President Obama above his loyalty to the Constitution.
  • Good, but...: "The sad truth is that Holder could have been truly great—not simply as the first black attorney general but as a man of principle who stood with the law over politics and friendship," writes Jonathan Turley at USA Today. "In one of the great lost opportunities in history, Holder will finish his tenure as he began it: a man with great but still unrealized potential."
  • Best for our times: Keep in mind that Holder served in extremely partisan times, writes Jamelle Bouie at Slate. He's not sure he can go as far as Al Sharpton in pronouncing Holder "the most effective civil rights attorney general in American history," but, writes Bouie, "he was a very good one, and given the times, that’s just as vital."
Click to see who's in the early running to be the next attorney general. (More Eric Holder stories.)

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