After several weeks on and off the hot seat, Eric Holder was confirmed by the Senate last night to be the next Attorney General in a 75-21 vote; with all votes against Holder cast by Republicans. The vote made Holder the first Black American to serve as the nation’s chief law enforcement executive.
When then President-elect Barack Obama first announced Holder’s nomination, it appeared that there would be considerable opposition from Republican lawmakers. Holder appeared vulnerable due to his role in the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich in the waning days of the Clinton administration. Though the Rich affair made for good headlines it did little to dent Holder’s path to confirmation. Several prominent Republicans voiced their support of Holder, including Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama and William Barr, a former attorney general under President George H. Bush. The support among Republicans helped get Holder’s nomination out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in a 17 to 2 vote that led to the full Senate’s consideration.
Holder takes over the Justice Department at a time when critical issues abound. On the international level he presides over an agency that must apply the Constitution in the age of terrorism when human rights take a back seat in the name of national security. He assumes the leadership of an agency that was politicized under the Bush administration, as an internal DOJ investigation revealed when it uncovered that race and political ideology were the factors driving hiring in the department. As the first Black to lead DOJ he will bear responsibility for an agency that at one time Blacks viewed with great suspicion due to the activities of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under J. Edgar Hoover during the 1960’s. Holder will also face expectations that the Department of Justice play a more visible role in incidents of police violence against Blacks, particularly young Black men.
With the 2010 Census around the corner, and legislative apportionment following closely behind, Holder will also oversee the implementation and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act at a time when the basic tenets of the law are now questioned. Overall, the enforcement of civil rights provisions under the law might be reinvigorated under Holder’s leadership with the backing of a supportive White House.