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Eric H. Holder Jr., Attorney General

Author: Joanna Klonsky, Associate Editor
Updated: February 3, 2009
This publication is now archived.

Eric HolderPresident Barack Obama's attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., served as the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration and has considerable justice department experience. He will be the first African American to serve in the post. The U.S. Senate confirmed Holder's appointment on Febuary 2, 2009. At his confirmation hearing on January 15, he pledged to use all available tactics "within the letter and spirit" of the U.S. Constitution to defeat enemies of the United States. "Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools," Holder said.

Holder began his career with the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section, where he served twelve years, investigating federal corruption. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan nominated Holder to be an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, a post he filled for five years until President Bill Clinton chose him to be U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, the largest such office in the country.

Holder became deputy attorney general under Janet Reno in 1997 and later served as acting attorney general during the first few weeks of the Bush administration until President Bush appointed John Ashcroft to the position. He faced criticism from some congressional Republicans for his role in Clinton's last-minute pardon of fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.  Holder told the White House he was "neutral, leaning towards favorable" on the pardon, which turned out to be Clinton's most controversial, in part because of funds donated to Clinton by Rich's former wife.

Holder argued in 2002 that detainees in the "war on terror" are not technically entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions. In an interview with CNN, Holder said the detainees should still be treated "in a very humane way and almost consistent with all of the dictates of the Geneva Convention." In a CNN interview in 2004, Holder was critical of the Bush Justice Department's use of the Patriot Act, saying it had been enforced in less-than-transparent way.

More recently, Holder has objected publicly to the Bush administration's handling of the "war on terror." In a June 2008 speech, Holder urged the closure of the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, calling the facility an "international embarrassment." He also called for the United States to outlaw torture, to end the practice of rendition, and to stop warrantless domestic wiretapping. "Our needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the war on terror have diminished our standing in the world community and made us less, rather than more, safe," Holder said in that speech.

Selected Readings:

Eric Holder on the Rule of Law. Remarks at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy. June 2008. (PDF)

Eric Holder on the Patriot Act. Interview with CNN's Judy Woodruff. April 2004.

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