Eric Holder to resign: how attorney general helped shape Obama agenda

Attorney General Eric Holder played an important role in shaping the Obama administration's tactics on same-sex marriage and issues of race.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
Attorney General Eric Holder talks with Capt. Ron Johnson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol at Drake's Place Restaurant in Florissant, Mo., on Aug. 20. Mr. Holder's trip to Ferguson was a signature moment of his tenure as attorney general.

Eric Holder, the first African-American to serve as attorney general of the United States, is announcing his resignation Thursday after serving more than five years as a key adviser to President Obama and as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

In addition to wielding the reins of the federal government’s investigative agencies and law enforcement bureaucracy, Mr. Holder served an important role in advising the president on matters of race and civil rights.

In perhaps the defining moment of his service as attorney general, Holder made a personal trip last month to Ferguson, Mo., amid mounting racial tensions and violent street demonstrations following the shooting death of a black teen by a white police officer.

The attorney general’s presence in the St. Louis suburb and his ability to speak directly to angry members of the African-American community helped bring a measure of calm to the demonstrations.

In an unusual move, he promised that federal agents would undertake a simultaneous investigation of the police shooting, rather than wait until local officials completed their investigation.

Holder has been a polarizing figure in White House relations with Congress – particularly Republicans. In 2012, he was held in contempt of Congress for his refusal to release documents related to Operation Fast and Furious, a bungled gun smuggling investigation on the Mexican border.

Holder was a strong advocate for civil rights, using his authority under the Voting Rights Act to block Republican-passed state laws requiring photo ID to vote. Holder called such measures a modern version of a poll tax.

He has also been a strong supporter of the campaign for national recognition of same-sex marriages.

He has called the gay rights movement “a defining civil rights challenge of our time.” He and Mr. Obama set the tone when they decided to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act when the law was being challenged in appeals courts. Later, after the Supreme Court struck down DOMA as discriminatory, Holder urged like-minded state attorneys general to stop defending their own state-passed bans on same-sex marriages.

Holder presided over the nation’s effort to prosecute suspected terrorists. He conceived a plan to move top Al Qaeda suspects from the terror detention camp at Guantánamo to a New York City courtroom for trial.

But the plan was abandoned, and Holder faced sharp criticism after local officials and members of Congress objected. During his tenure, some terror suspects have faced trial in federal courts – and been convicted – but the defendants charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks remain at Guantánamo where they are set to be tried by military commissions favored by the Bush administration.

Before becoming attorney general in 2009, Holder had served as deputy attorney general in the administration of President Clinton. He also served as US attorney in the District of Columbia and as an associate judge in Washington’s Superior Court.

The White House issued a statement that the president would make a personnel announcement at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

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