Attorney General Eric Holder

  • September 29, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Judy Appelbaum, Visiting Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Acting Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, 2009-2013.

    When Eric Holder testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January 2009 on his nomination to serve as Attorney General, he pledged to faithfully execute his duties by adhering to the precepts and principles of the Constitution, and to do so in a fair, just and independent manner. He also promised to reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Department of Justice and emphasized that one of his top priorities would be to safeguard what he called our precious civil rights.  He has lived up to those commitments, and he will leave office with an extraordinary record of accomplishment. 

    I was privileged to have a close-up view of Attorney General Holder’s stewardship of the Department when I helped lead DOJ’s office of legislative affairs for the first four years of his tenure. Right at the beginning, I saw the determination and energy he put into passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which gave the Department new tools to address violent hate crimes and for the first time enabled DOJ to protect LGBT victims.  After the bill became law, he made sure that the Department aggressively investigated and pursued such crimes wherever warranted by the facts and the law. 

    Demonstrating his commitment to fairness in the criminal justice system, early in his term Attorney General Holder also pressed Congress to pass the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce crack-powder sentencing disparities that disproportionately penalized African American offenders.  He didn’t rest on that legislative success, either. He then launched the Smart on Crime Initiative, which led to a series of path-breaking reforms. These include a change in the Department’s charging policies to avoid triggering excessive mandatory minimum penalties for low-level, non-violent drug offenders, and measures to reduce barriers faced by ex-offenders as they re-enter society. Under Holder’s innovative Access to Justice Initiative, the Department has found ways to help ensure that indigent criminal defendants receive adequate legal representation. 

  • September 29, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    Burgess Everett of Politico reports that judicial confirmation hearings are likely to return after the November elections.

    In The Nation, Ari Berman examines the voting rights record of Eric Holder. In The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne, Jr. looks at Eric Holder’s legacy in comparison to Robert F. Kennedy.

    Adam Liptak writes in The New York Times on the popularity of judicial elections and the legal challenges facing them.

    The New Republic features Jeffrey Rosen’s lengthy interview of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on topics ranging from the Scalia/Ginsburg opera to rumors of her retirement.

    Eric Segall and Lisa McElroy criticize the secrecy of the Supreme Court in an article for Salon.

     

    In The New York Times, Richard Fausset reports on the underrepresentation of African Americans in politics even in large African American communities. 

  • February 14, 2014

    by Jesse Grauman

    Attorney General Eric Holder this week offered welcome support for ending the practice of felony disenfranchisement. Arguing that “permanent exclusion from the civic community does not advance any objective of our criminal justice system,” Attorney General Holder called for “clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines.”

    While the degree of felony disenfranchisement varies by state, eleven states permanently disenfranchise at least some formerly incarcerated persons unless the state’s government approves the restoration of voting rights on an individual basis. Three of those states – Iowa, Florida and Kentucky – permanently disenfranchise all formerly incarcerated persons with felony convictions absent individual rights restoration.  An additional 24 deny the right to vote to those who have been released from prison but remain on parole, and 20 of these states disenfranchise those on probation as well.

    As a result, approximately 5.8 million Americans are prohibited from voting as a result of felony disenfranchisement laws. These laws have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans, with nearly one in 13 African-American adults barred from voting, including one in eight African-American men nationwide and one in five African-Americans in Florida, Kentucky and Virginia. 

    These disparate impacts are not only due to the massive racial disparities that exist in our criminal justice system. Rather, many such laws were passed in the aftermath of Reconstruction as a means of denying the franchise to African-Americans. Eleven states passed felony disenfranchisement laws for the first time, or significantly expanded existing laws, in the decade after the Civil War, and states with larger proportions of nonwhites in their prison populations have been more likely to pass such laws. Indeed, in 1985, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down a felony disenfranchisement provision in Alabama’s state constitution in Hunter v. Underwood, finding that the provision, although neutral on its face, was enacted with discriminatory intent. As the Court noted, “the Alabama Constitutional Convention of 1901 [when the measure was passed] was part of a movement that swept the post-Reconstruction South to disenfranchise blacks” and the president of that convention stated that its goal was “to establish white supremacy in this State.” 

  • August 30, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Alex Kreit, Associate Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, San Diego. Kreit is author of the casebook, Controlled Substances: Crime, Regulation, and Policy and the ACS Issue Brief, “Toward a Public Health Approach to Drug Policy.”

    Yesterday, after months of anticipation, the Department of Justice announced its response to marijuana legalization ballot measures passed by voters in Washington and Colorado last November.  The DOJ said it does not plan to sue Washington and Colorado to block the new laws.  The agency also released new prosecutorial guidance that indicates it may limit the enforcement of federal drug laws in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical purposes.

    If you felt a sense of déjà vu reading that paragraph, there’s a good reason. 

    In 2009, The New York Times ran a front-page article about a different DOJ memo under the headline U.S. Won’t Prosecute in States That Allow Medical Marijuana.  The 2009 Times article reported that “[p]eople who use marijuana for medical purposes and those who distribute it to them should not face federal prosecution, provided they act according to state law, the Justice Department said Monday in a directive with far-reaching political and legal implications.”

    By early 2012, however, Rolling Stone ran a story titled Obama’s War on Pot in which writer Tim Dickinson forlornly told the story of how “over the past year, the Obama administration ha[d] quietly unleashed a multiagency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush.”

    Will the DOJ’s new marijuana policy live up to the hype?  Or, will we see a replay of what happened following the 2009 memo?  Policy advocates seem to be split so far, with some calling it a historic turning point for U.S. drug policy and others taking a wait-and-see approach.

    Only time will provide a definitive answer to this question.  But comparing yesterday’s memo with 2009’s can help us understand what to watch for in the months to come.  A few points are worth particular attention.

  • August 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Nkechi Taifa, senior policy analyst for civil and justice reform at the Open Society Foundations and convener of the Washington-based Justice Roundtable

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced significant steps today at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco to correct the deepest, costliest and worst aspects in our criminal justice system. The reforms he outlined in remarks entitled, Smart on Crime, were a long time coming for the criminal justice advocacy community.

    Although Congress recently approved legislation to help prisoners re-enter society and to reduce the infamous disparity between crack and powder cocaine, previous Presidents and Congress have never addressed the root causes of mass incarceration. These unjust laws and policies that drive up the U.S. prison population include inflexible front-end decisions that define who goes to prison and for how long, as well as stubborn back-end choices that impede early release.

    Today, in the fifth decade of both the March on Washington and the War on Drugs, the Attorney General has ushered in a revolutionary moment by advancing the policy discussion around widespread incarceration that has cost billions of dollars without making society any safer, and reducing flaws of a system that sends too many people of color to prison.

    The policies outlined in Holder’s speech will recalibrate the federal criminal justice system by correcting obstacles, inefficiencies and inequities and transforming law enforcement strategies so they alleviate, rather than exacerbate, harsh punishment.