Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement Thursday that he is resigning, effective when his successor is confirmed, is welcome news.
As John Fund and I outline in our recent book, “Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department,” every time President Obama has broken, bent, ignored or changed the law, the person at his side advising him how to do it has been Eric Holder.
Mr. Holder is also responsible for spearheading an unprecedented politicization of the Justice Department, which should be of great concern to anyone who cares about the rule of law and the impartial administration of justice.
Why care about who runs the U.S. Justice Department? It matters because Justice is one of the most powerful executive branch agencies in the federal government. It has enormous discretionary power to pursue people accused of breaking the law and to exert major influence over social, economic and national security policies by the enforcement (or non-enforcement) choices made by its top officer.
Justice requires someone who understands that, while the attorney general is a political appointee, he (or she) has a sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and enforce the law in an objective, non-political manner. For the most part, Eric Holder failed in the execution of that duty.
Mr. Holder is the first attorney general in history to be held in contempt by the House of Representatives. He earned this dubious distinction by refusing to turn over documents related to what may be the most reckless law enforcement operation ever undertaken by the Justice Department: Operation Fast and Furious.
During his tenure, the Justice Department launched more investigations and prosecutions of leaks than all prior attorneys general combined, while studiously ignoring high-level “friendly leaks” by White House officials designed to make the president look tough in the fight against terrorism.
Mr. Holder racialized the prosecution of federal anti-discrimination laws and led an unprecedented attack on election integrity laws, thus making it easier for people to commit voter fraud.
His handling of national security issues and his reinstitution of the Clinton-era criminal model for handling terrorists have endangered national security and the safety of the American public.
Mr. Holder has tried to restrict pro-life protesters’ First Amendment right to speak, has prosecuted American companies (under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) for behavior that is routine among government officials, and has on numerous occasions ignored his duty to defend the law and to enforce statutes passed by Congress.
In clear violation of civil service rules, Mr. Holder filled the career ranks of the Justice Department with political allies, cronies and Democratic Party donors.
He treated Congress with contempt and did everything he could to evade its oversight responsibilities by misleading, misinforming and ignoring members of Congress and its committees.
For these reasons and many others, a former career lawyer who served in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations told us that, in his opinion, “Holder is the worst person to hold the position of Attorney General since the disgraced John Mitchell, who went to jail as a result of the Watergate scandal.” This is quite a criticism given that many DOJ veterans believe that the Department reached its nadir under Mitchell.
But in comparison to Holder, Mitchell seems like an amateur in corrupting the law enforcement duties of the Justice Department to carry out the political objectives of President Obama.
The many cases in which judges have accused DOJ prosecutors of engaging in prosecutorial abuse during Holder’s tenure shows, unfortunately, the extent to which this modus operandi has seeped into the lower levels of the Department.
How long it will take to repair the damage that Eric Holder has done to the management and operation of the Justice Department? There is no way to know.
In the end, it is the president who decides on the character, attributes and competence of the individual chosen to be the head of the largest law enforcement organization in the United States.
And it is the president who decides whether his administration – and his attorney general – will fulfill their obligation to “faithfully execute” their duty to enforce the law and “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Hans A. von Spakovsky is a former Justice Department official. He is the co-author, with John Fund of "Obama's Enforcer: Eric Holder's Justice Department" (Broadside/HarperCollins 2014). He is Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at the Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.