More than any other federal agency, the Justice Department is bracing for what the New York Times called “a broad doctrinal shift in policies from those of the Bush administration.” The Senate is expected to confirm Eric Holder Jr. today as the nation's 82nd attorney general, and he is expected to act quickly on reforms, including overseeing the creation of a new detention policy for terrorism suspects. An Obama administration lawyer said America should expect “a sea change of what went on before.”
Holder will have to make several quick decisions because of court-imposed deadlines. And he will have to do so with many of the senior positions in the department not yet filled. The department has to decide by next month whether it will reverse course from the Bush administration, which had repeatedly invoked the so-called state secrets doctrine to shut down legal challenges to several lawsuits dealing with national security. Officials also face a February deadline on whether to extend habeas corpus rights to detainees at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.