Attorney General

Attorney General Eric Holder resigns but 'will never leave the work'

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Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder. ABA file photo by Tony Avelar.

Updated: With “very mixed emotions,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his resignation at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Holder said that while he will leave the Department of Justice, he will “never leave the work. I will continue to serve and try to find ways to make our nation even more true to its founding ideals.”

Holder will stay in the job until his successor is confirmed, President Barack Obama said at the press conference, just as the New York Times reported earlier Thursday, based on a Justice Department announcement. The Times described Holder as “the most prominent liberal voice of the administration.”

Obama said Thursday that over the summer, Holder came to him and let him know his intention to resign. “And he said he thought six years was a pretty good run. I imagine his family agrees.” Holder is at this point the fourth-longest-serving attorney general in history, the Washington Post reported.

Holder became choked up during his resignation speech as he thanked his parents, who he said made him and his brother William “believe in the value of individual effort and the greatness of this nation.” He also thanked his wife and children for their sacrifices and support.

The National Law Journal (sub. req.) reported that “in the BigLaw world, many lawyers for months have speculated” that Holder will return to Covington & Burling in Washington, D.C. Both a Covington spokesman and firm chairman Timothy Hester declined to comment to the NLJ. Lanny Breuer and Mythili Raman, who worked at the DOJ with Holder during his tenure, have both moved on to Covington in the last two years.

When asked by the NLJ, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, declined to comment on whether she’d discussed a position for Holder at her organization. “He could do anything,” Ifill told the NLJ. “He could lead boards of various organizations. He could take some time off and write an amazing book.”

A White House official told the Washington Post before today’s announcement that “Holder’s accomplishments have established a historic legacy of civil rights enforcement and restoring fairness to the criminal justice system. Holder revitalized the Department’s praised Civil Rights Division, protected the rights of the LGBT community, successfully prosecuted terrorists, and fought tirelessly for voting rights, to name a few.”

NPR has a detailed look at Holder’s career. He had previously worked as a corruption-fighting prosecutor and a deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. As attorney general, Holder weathered several controversies.

Early controversy erupted over a 2009 speech for Black History Month in which Holder said the United States was a “nation of cowards” because of a reluctance to discuss racial tension. Several lawmakers complained when Holder said he would try alleged Sept. 11 plotters in New York federal court, a decision he later reversed. “Things hit a crisis point,” NPR says, when the House of Representatives held Holder in contempt for refusing to release documents in the botched Fast and Furious probe of gun trafficking.

Holder hopes he will be remembered for his civil rights record, NPR said Thursday. He fought voting restrictions in lawsuits, investigated alleged abuses in local police departments, and sought lower sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Debate has already begun on whether to try to confirm a successor for Holder in the lame-duck session following this fall’s midterm elections, the Wall Street Journal reports.

“Allowing Democratic senators, many of whom will likely have just been defeated at the polls, to confirm Holder’s successor would be an abuse of power that should not be countenanced,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a statement Thursday.

However, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said that “it would be irresponsible for anyone to try to delay confirmation of the country’s chief law-enforcement officer for political purposes.”

A White House official told the Associated Press on Thursday that Obama had not made a decision on a replacement for Holder. Speculation on possible successors has centered on Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, former Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli, former White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler and Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, according to the AP, CNN and the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick took himself out of consideration Thursday. “That’s an enormously important job, but it’s not one for me right now,” Patrick said.

Last updated at 7:14 p.m. to note additional coverage.

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