U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who has made criminal justice and civil rights two of the leading priorities of his nearly six years in office, announced his resignation today.
He will stay in office until his successor is confirmed, which might not happen until early next year. Holder, the first black person to hold the office, has had what NPR calls “a tumultuous tenure marked by civil rights advances, national security threats, reforms to the criminal justice system and five and a half years of fights with Republicans in Congress.”
Holder said today that, “We have begun to significantly reform our criminal justice system and reconnect those who bravely serve in law enforcement with the communities they protect.”
Holder’s Justice Department has increased oversight over civil-rights practices of local police departments and is reducing the federal prison population, mainly by cutting drug sentences.
At a Sept. 23 conference held by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, Holder addressed the future of mass incarceration in the United States. He said he favors a “holistic approach”, which includes strategies ranging from community policing to rethinking sentencing.
“The United States will never be able to prosecute or incarcerate its way to being a safer nation,” said Holder. The Department of Justice (DOJ) expects the federal prison population to drop by over 2,000 inmates in the next twelve months and by 10,000 inmates the following year. Nevertheless, although that number is equivalent to the population of six federal prisons, the government has no plans to close any facilities, because they are already at over-capacity, Holder said.
Holder, 63, was reported to be increasingly “adamant” about his desire to leave soon out of fear he could otherwise be locked in to remain for most of President Obama’s second term. Holder already is the fourth longest tenured Attorney General in history. He is a former judge and anti-corruption prosecutor and served as deputy attorney general, the second in command to Attorney General Janet Reno, during the Clinton administration.
Among many possible successors are Solicitor General Don Verrilli, who represents the administration at the Supreme Court, and California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former head of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, has also been prominent on the speculative list, but Patrick said today he did not want the job.
Insiders said one reason Holder announced his resignation now is to increase chances for a smooth Senate confirmation for his successor during this year’s post-election lame duck session. Easy confirmation is much less likely if Republicans win the Senate majority in November’s elections.