Whether you like or loathe U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, you have to admit that he is fearless in voicing and executing his convictions from his position as the nation's top cop.
In announcing his resignation Thursday - Holder will stay in office until a successor is named and nominated - The New York Times wrote in a brief story that "Holder has been the most prominent liberal voice of the Obama administration," particularly during Barack Obama's second term.
I think you can include the first term as well. Right out of the gate Holder was pressing to try Gitmo detainees in New York City rather than deal with them offshore- much to the chagrin of Republicans, New Yorkers, the families of 9/11 victims and those who thought we were in a War on Terror.
One of the twists during the "Fast and Furious" gun-running episode was Holder's refusal to hand over documents to Congress, which held him in contempt while probing the death of a U.S. Border Patrol agent at the hands of a gun purportedly placed in Mexico by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It is alleged that ATF was trying to trace the trail of weapons.
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While Holder's fans will remember him as a champion of civil rights and sentencing reform for nonviolent drug offenders, others will recall his penchant for "selective prosecution" - picking and choosing what laws to enforce, such as the Defense of Marriage Act, federal laws on cannabis and prosecuting only the most serious criminals among the nation's 11 million undocumented.
During the height of the racial tensions in Ferguson, Mo., following the fatal shooting by police of the unarmed Michael Brown, Holder paid a visit to the besieged city. Since there is a civil rights investigation underway, it made sense for the Justice Department to be involved. But the attorney general? I asked the DOJ whether it could ever recall a sitting attorney general coming to the location of a police shooting. I realize the unique circumstances, but I still thought it was a fair question.
I never got an answer.
It is fair to say that the nearly six-year stint of the first African-American attorney general will leave a mark and a polarized citizenry.
After working with Rep. Dan Lungren, a California Republican (retired) who served two stints in Congress - and two terms as California attorney general (1991-1998) in between - I came to respect Lungren's take on the mission of an AG. I asked him about Holder on Thursday.
"I tried to show him respect but I profoundly disagreed with him," said Lungren, citing Holder's idea to try 9/11 terror suspects in civilian New York courts. "It was offensive to the people there ... politically tone deaf. It was a failure to comprehend the full dynamics of the war on terror." Holder disagrees to this day.
Lungren is completely at odds with Holder, or any other attorney general, who picks and chooses laws, or parts of laws, to defend.
"The AG's job is to see if there is a constitutional basis to defend the law," Lungren said, citing Holder's unwillingness to defend DOMA as an example. "If the AG refused to defend a law passed by a jurisdiction, in many cases it leaves no one to defend the law."
Whether the administration liked DOMA or certain immigration laws or not, Lungren said such a practice ought to be a major concern to Americans. "That means supporters of a law don't have an opportunity to have their side argued," he said.
Robert Ehlert is the Statesman's editorial page editor. Contact him at 377-6437, or on Twitter @IDS_HelloIdaho.