Eric H. Holder Jr.’s swearing-in this week as the first black U.S. attorney general “came weighted with heavy expectation” of change in a criminal justice system with disproportionate arrests and executions of black men, says the Washington Post. The newspaper notes that Holder, 58, is a prosecutor who was unflinchingly tough on crime, but also a mentor to young black men.
Holder has emphasized civil rights enforcement when speaking publicly since his nomination, but he has not indicated a desire to plunge headlong into broad changes to the criminal laws. Criminal justice activists would like Congress to focus on longstanding sentencing disparities for convicts caught with crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. Possession of crack carries longer criminal penalties, and 80 percent of people prosecuted for crack offenses have been African American, according to the Sentencing Project. Obama has said repeatedly that he wants to end the sentencing disparity, but Holder was vague when asked about it at his confirmation hearing.