Obama Praises Holder’s Record Amid Resignation

     WASHINGTON (CN) – After nearly six years at the helm of U.S. Justice Department, Attorney General Eric Holder said today that he is stepping down.
     President Barack Obama made what had been Washington, D.C.’s worst kept secret official with an announcement at the White House this afternoon.
     “Through it all he’s shown a deep and abiding fidelity to one of our cherished ideals as a people and that is equal justice under the law,” Obama said before a crush of media and staff in the East Room of the White House.
     The president praised Holder at length, highlighting the attorney general’s record in the area of criminal justice reform and civil rights, particularly as in the area of voting rights, gay rights and criminal sentencing.
     “It’s a pretty good track record,” Obama said.
     One of the longest-serving members of President Obama’s cabinet and the fourth-longest-tenured U.S. attorney general in history, Holder is also the nation’s first black attorney general.
     The White House said the president’s announcement of Holder’s departure had been scheduled for this late afternoon. Events quickly got ahead of the announcement, however, inspiring the president to take to Twitter in advance of his formal remarks.
     In one Tweet that appeared on the White House website this afternoon, President Obama said of Holder, “He believes, as I do, that Justice is not just an abstract theory. It’s a living and breathing principle.”
     In another, the president said Holder has shown a “deep and abiding fidelity to one of our most cherished ideals as a people … equal justice under the law.”
     While his 5 ½ years in office have been marked by a series of skirmishes with Republicans in Congress, Holder’s tenure has also included criminal-justice reforms, advances in civil rights and neutralization of several national-security threats.
     Holder refused to defend a law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman; sued North Carolina and Texas over voting restrictions that disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly; conducted widespread investigations into abuse meted out by local police departments; and has been a vocal critic of the sentencing guidelines for nonviolent drug crimes.
     Just this week, Holder announced the federal prison population dropped by 4,800 in the past year – the first such decline since 1980. The attorney general attributed the drop to sentencing reforms for which he has long been an advocate.
     Last summer Holder played a critical role in reducing tensions in Ferguson, Mo., after a white policeman killed an unarmed black, 18-year-old. He has since said the shooting, which sparked weeks of riots and protest, left the country at “a moment of decision … that can no longer be avoided.”
     Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, said in a statement, “Attorney General Holder never shied away from the issues that greatly affect us all,”
     “There has been no greater ally in the fight for justice … ” Evers said. “From lobbying Congress to reduce prison sentences for non-violent drug offenders, to cracking down on abuse by police departments and to working to ease racial tension throughout the United States, the Attorney General was always there ready to correct injustices and offer common sense reforms to better our nation.”
     Those sentiments were shared by Sherrilyn A. Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund.
     “General Holder’s vision for the Civil Rights Division was one of restoration and transformation, from his leadership on voting rights, to legal services for the poor, to criminal justice reforms and, in recent weeks, to his forceful response to the tragic events in Ferguson,” Ifill said.
     Holder also received praise from the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest civil rights advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
     As U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Holder is credited with forming the first hate crimes task force .
     In the White House, Holder spearheaded the administration’s decision to not defend the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, and under his leadership the FBI and the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division began actively investigating and prosecuting hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity with the implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
     “Some Attorneys General wait for history, others make history happen. Attorney General Holder made history for the LGBT community,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “He was our Robert F. Kennedy, lightening the burden of every American who faces legal discrimination and social oppression. We owe him a profound debt of gratitude for his legacy of advocacy and service.”
     But Holder has also been no stranger to controversy, one of the biggest being his attempt to hold trials in New York, not far from where the World Trade Center once stood, for the alleged plotters of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
     Heavily criticized for that move, Holder ultimately sent the cases to a military court.
     Another controversy during Holder’s tenure stems from his refusal to turn over documents about Fast and Furious, a bungled program carried out by the Phoenix field office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
     The plan consisted of ATF agents knowingly allowing firearms purchased illegally in the United States to be unlawfully transferred to Mexico in hopes that the guns would lead ATF agents to the cartel leaders who purchased them. The mission fell apart, however, after agents lost track of thousands of guns, some of which turned up at the scene of a 2010 firefight in Arizona that resulted in the death of a border patrol agent.
     The GOP-led House voted to hold him in contempt, making his the first attorney general to be sanctioned in that way.
     Despite these and other controversies, Holder never wavered in his commitment to carrying out his duties, and never lost the confidence of President Obama. In an interview with ABC News earlier this year, Holder conceded that his was “a demanding job,” but also called it “the honor of my professional life.”
     According to published reports, Holder’s decision to step down now is entirely his own.
     USA Today said this morning that Holder had discussed his plans to step down with President Obama several times in recent months, and apparently made his final decision in an hour-long conversation with the president over Labor Day weekend.
     He reportedly broke the news to his staff this morning, and then began making calls to longtime supporters, including Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and Ethel Kennedy, the widow of former Attorney General Robert Kennedy.
     Lewis said he was “deeply saddened” to learn of Holder’s decision, while Kennedy lauded the departing attorney general, saying he “vigilantly defended an ideal Bobby strongly believed – that the Justice Department must deliver justice for all Americans. Especially our most vulnerable, who live in the very communities where justice can be hardest to find.”
     Speculation is that Holder will likely be succeeded by U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrili Jr., who has represented the federal government before the Supreme Court in recent years.

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