Attorney General Eric Holder bid a final farewell to what he predicts will be recognized in the next half-century as a new “Golden Age” at the Department of Justice, leaving behind a historic six-year tenure as the first African-American man to serve as the nation’s top attorney.
“This is something that has meant the world to me, it has helped define me as an individual and as a lawyer, as a man,” Holder said in his final send-off Friday with the department employees who served under him.
Holder thanked the department for its work in the many issues that will likely define his legacy. He has sought to reform a criminal justice system too reliant on incarceration by reducing the harsh sentences doled out to low-level drug offenders. He restored the department’s civil rights division and made aggressively enforcing those laws a priority. Meanwhile he’s waded into addressing fraught issues of race and worked to help young people of color avoid being pulled and entangled with the law.
Pointing to the issue that he said animated him most, Holder urged the department to continue challenging state-led efforts to restrict voting after he said the Voting Rights Act was “wrongly gutted.”
“The notion that we would somehow go back and put in place things that make it more difficult for our fellow citizens to vote is simply inconsistent with all that is good about this country and something that I was bound and determined to fight,” Holder said.
Calling LGBT equality the “civil rights issue of our time,” Holder said he hoped the same-sex marriage case being argued before the Supreme Court next week will “go in a way that I think is consistent with who we say we are as a people.”
In a nod to his historic achievements, the Justice Department released a video earlier in the day featuring prominent politicians from President Bill Clinton to Rep. John Lewis to Sen. Patrick Leahy, describing Holder’s legacy as “the people’s lawyer.”
“He’s anchored in the cause of civil rights and social justice,” Lewis said in the video.
A day earlier Loretta Lynch made history in becoming the first African-American woman to serve as the nation’s top attorney, culminating an unprecedented and politically fraught confirmation process that was drawn out for more than 160 days. The Senate previously had no problem with confirming Lynch as U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York – twice. But her ascent to head the Department of Justice was held in limbo for months, tied up by congressional Republicans who opposed her support of Obama’s immigration policy.
Slipping off his wrist a black band with the inscription “Free Eric Holder” – a fashion statement among his supporters in the Justice Department during the months-long stand-off over Lynch’s confirmation – Holder tossed the rubber bracelet into the crowd in his final act as attorney general.
“I think we can officially say now that Eric Holder is free,” he said.