Attorney General Eric Holder

  • May 16, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Like his predecessor President Obama has embraced an aggressive, mostly secret and, at times, constitutionally suspect approach to waging a never-ending war on terror.

    Unlike its predecessor, the Obama administration has obsessively investigated leaks of information surrounding some of its counterterrorism efforts. The administration has launched at least six cases of alleged leaks, including one involving a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen that The Associated Press reported on last spring. As part of that investigation the Department of Justice secretly gathered and culled through phone records of AP reporters.

    Going on the information we have now it appears that the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech including press from government interference, was too easily shunted aside in an over-the-top investigation of a leak. The AP was given no chance to challenge a government search of its phone records and have a judge decide whether national security interests trumped freedom of speech in this instance. Yes, Attorney General Eric Holder claims the leak was one of the most egregious he has seen in a long, long time. But he doesn’t explain how it was so terribly egregious, nor do the facts as we know them now support his sweeping assertion.

    And today, during a press conference, President Obama hardly appeared fazed by the criticism of the DOJ’s tactics, decrying leaks of counterterrorism efforts. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk, they can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk,” he said.

    But the May 7, 2012 reporting by the AP, had, according to its president, Gary Pruitt, been held until the White House assured the AP that “national security concerns" were no longer an issue. Pruitt added, “Indeed the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.”  

    Earlier this week The New York Times Editorial Board hammered the administration for its “zeal” for going after persons accused of leaking national security information. In the AP matter, The Times Editorial Board said the administration had offered no “credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.”

    It’s rather lame to argue that just because Republicans howled loudly over the AP coverage of the foiled terrorist plot in Yemen that the DOJ’s obnoxious action of spying on the AP was somewhat mitigated. Moreover, it’s not like this administration has needed prodding to aggressively and obsessively go after alleged leakers.

  • December 18, 2012
    Guest Post

    by Laura Abel, Deputy Director, National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School

    Recently the Justice Department’s groundbreaking civil rights work received a boost when a federal district court allowed it to proceed with its civil rights case against the Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff, Joe Arpaio. The Justice Department’s suit alleges that the Sheriff is harming the Latino community in a dozen mean-spirited and unlawful ways, including:  race-based stops, searches and arrests; the denial of health care and other services in the county jail for prisoners with limited proficiency in English; and retaliation against people who dare to complain. The Department’s complaint provides some insight into the human cost. For example, it tells the story of four Latino men, whose car was stopped even though they had not violated any traffic laws:  the officers “ordered the men out of the car, zip-tied them, and made them sit on the curb for an hour before releasing all of them.”  And it explains that in the county jail, officers “routinely make announcements only in English” about such fundamental things as the “time … to go outdoors, receive clothing, or eat.”

    Investigations into serious civil rights abuses have been one of the hallmarks of Attorney General Eric Holder’s tenure. The Justice Department’s investigations into language access problems in state courts and law enforcement agencies around the country have been particularly successful, leading to major improvements in many states.  As a result of civil rights investigations in Colorado and Rhode Island, for instance, the courts in both states agreed to provide interpreters for limited English proficient individuals in all civil cases. 

  • December 12, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    In a robust defense of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder blasted the claim that the law’s integral enforcement provision is outdated and said it was time the nation updated the way voters are registered.

    Speaking at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, Holder said, “President Kennedy recognized that no force in our history has been more powerful than the continued expansion of what’s been called the lifeblood of our representative democracy, the cornerstone of our system of government, and the ‘most basic’ right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”

    That basic right has been under attack on several fronts. First Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act continues to be challenged as unconstitutional by some lawmakers in the South who argue that discrimination against minorities is a thing of the past and therefore they should not be required to get federal preclearance for changes to their voting procedures. The Supreme Court will review a challenge to Sec. 5 brought by Shelby County, Ala. officials who are seeking the demise of Sec. 5.

    Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act, has, Holder noted, enjoyed “broad, bipartisan support – including, most recently, in 2006, when an overwhelming congressional majority joined with President Bush to reauthorize its protections. It’s also been upheld as constitution in each of the eight court challenges that the law’s opponents filed between 1965 and 2010 – during the first 45 years after it took effect. Over the last two years alone, however, we’ve seen at least 10 lawsuits – more than in the first four decades of the statute’s existence – arguing that Section 5 is no longer constitutional, and that our nation has moved far beyond the challenges that prompted both its passage and its recent renewal.”

  • November 14, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sam Kamin, Director, Constitutional Rights & Remedies Program and Professor, Sturm College of Law, University of Denver


    With the passage of marijuana legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado, the long-simmering cold war between state and federal marijuana policy threatens to break out into open hostilities. While eighteen states plus the District of Columbia now permit marijuana for medical purposes, only Washington and Colorado have taken the bolder step of both repealing entirely their marijuana prohibitions for small amounts of the drug and requiring their state legislatures to begin regulating a retail, recreational marijuana industry by the end of 2013.

    Everything now depends on the response of the federal government. Notwithstanding changing policy in the states, marijuana remains on the DEA’s list of Schedule I narcotics, those drugs whose manufacture and sale are strictly prohibited. Thus, every transaction in every medical marijuana state throughout the country constitutes a federal crime. The Justice Department has grudgingly accepted the medical marijuana industry thus far; while there have been some federal raids on these businesses, they have generally been permitted to operate, notwithstanding their open flouting of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

    In 2010, when the state of California considered Proposition 19 which would have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder issued voters in that state a strong warning. He made clear that the federal government would “vigorously enforce” the provisions of the CSA in the state if voters passed the Proposition. After having an early lead in polls, the measure eventually lost.

  • September 4, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Late last week seemingly as quiet as possible, the attorney general announced no efforts to prosecute CIA officials accused of being involved in the torture of military prisoners. As The New York Times put it, Attorney General Eric Holder’s “announcement closes a contentious three-year investigation by the Justice Department and brings to an end years of dispute over whether line intelligence or military personnel or their superiors would be held accountable for the abuse of prisoners ….”

    Of course Holder’s action will stir more discussion, some of it shrill and way over-the-top, about the Obama administration’s record on national security and conducting a seemingly never-ending war against terrorism. For many liberals the Obama administration’s record in those areas appears just like his predecessor’s.

    Human Rights First issued a strong, clear-headed statement against Holder’s action.

    “Torture is illegal and out of step with American values,” Human Rights First’s Melina Milazzo said in an Aug. 30 press statement. “Attorney General Holder’s announcement is disappointing because it’s well documented that in the aftermath of 9/11 torture and abuse was widespread and systematic. These cases deserved to be taken more seriously from the outset. When you don’t take seriously the duty to investigate criminal acts at the beginning, resolution becomes even more difficult a decade later. It’s is shocking that the department’s review of hundreds of instances of torture and abuse will fail to hold even one person accountable.”

    Such disappointment is warranted, so is sharp, thoughtful criticism.

    But then predictably we are also subject to the overwrought. For example, see actor John Cusack’s lengthy and often insufferable discussion with law professor Jonathan Turley for Truthout. Their discussion drones on and includes claims of “Rubicon lines” being crossed and constitutional principles being trampled. Cusack says Obama has created an “imperial presidency.” Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, whole-heartedly concurs, adding “Oh, President Obama has created an imperial presidency that would have made Richard Nixon bush. It is unbelievable.”