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Holder: Obama’s seasoned pick for attorney general

An experienced hand at Justice, he would shift priorities on detainees and domestic surveillance.

By Staff writer / November 19, 2008

If confirmed, Mr. Holder will become the first African-American attorney general, the top US law enforcement officer.

Susan Walsh/AP/File


President-elect Obama’s pick of Eric Holder to serve as attorney general would bring to the new administration a widely respected lawyer with extensive experience as a judge, prosecutor, and litigator.

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It would also add to the historic nature of the Obama White House. If confirmed, Mr. Holder will become the first African-American attorney general, the top US law enforcement officer.

Holder will likely win relatively easy confirmation in the Senate, political analysts say. But some note that he could face close questioning about his involvement in two controversial Clinton administration pardons: those of fugitive businessman Marc Rich and 16 Puerto Rican nationalists with the terror group FALN.

At the time, Holder was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, served briefly as acting attorney general in the waning days of the Clinton administration.

Holder was a co-chairman of Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign and served on the committee that selected Sen. Joseph Biden to run as vice president.

He is a partner at the Washington law firm Covington and Burling, where he specializes in complex civil and criminal cases and internal corporate investigations. He has also been a prominent advocate for liberal and progressive legal causes, supporting the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons and, most recently, signing on to a friend of the court brief embracing Washington’s strict ban on handguns. The US Supreme Court struck down the ban in June.

Holder knows his way around the Justice Department and is viewed as well suited to undertake what is expected to be a substantial shift in approach from the policies of the Bush administration. Those shifts will include closing the terror prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and possibly bringing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other Al Qaeda leaders to the United States to stand trial in American courts. Analysts also expect significant changes to US intelligence policies, domestic surveillance operations, and interrogation tactics. They anticipate a push for robust enforcement of civil liberties, civil rights, and voting rights.