Attorney General, Eric Holder, announced yesterday his resignation as the top US law enforcement official. News reports characterized House Republicans’ feelings as “good riddance”. Social and Human Rights advocates praised him and lamented the loss. Hmmm.
The AG is a cabinet level position who heads the Department of Justice as well. Holder was responsible for well known departments such as the FBI and the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), lesser know activities such as the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties and Office on Violence Against Women, and a lot of territory in between.
The AG is also the nation’s top lawyer and represents the US before the Supreme Court.
In practice, the Department of Justice runs day to day under the leadership of long term professionals, presumably outside the influence of political parties. Hmmm, maybe mostly.
Since DOJ could not possible enforce all laws or prosecute all who violate statutes, the Attorney General must exercise judgement on what matters he/she will commit resources. Hmmm. For front page issues like immigration enforcement or marijuana use, the Attorney General must be in lock step with the President. As such, there is clearly a political component to the job.
For other matters such as the infamous ATF’s gun running task force (Fast and Furious), the buck stops with the AG whether he likes it or not. He must take the heat for operations gone wrong and pour oil on the partisan politics. (Holder did not excel at this function.)
It will take time for historians to properly assess Holder’s tenure. My guess is that in time a fair assessment will conclude that matters such as the decision to refer 9/11 conspirators to military tribunals after having first announced trials in civilian courts was a mistake and due to faulty political pressure. To date no trials against these terrorists have taken place. Holder’s first decision to try terrorists in civilian courts will be seen as correct.
In summary, my guess is that Eric Holder will be viewed as decent, honest, and person of high integrity who knew what should be done but succeeded in getting his way only part of the time. We should remember there were no Wako’s, no torture memos, no new restrictions upon gays or women.
His record may been seen as only average but it is difficult to image how anyone in the near future will be able to perform better.