The Plank

Hooray For Holder

Eric Holder looks like Obama's pick
for attorney general. I've been impressed by him ever since interviewing
him
in the '90s, when he was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and
identified the phenomenon of the single "unreachable" D.C.
juror--often an African American woman--who refused to deliberate and hung the
jury 8-1. He'll be good for the Justice department in at least two ways:

Nixon in China on Crime:
Holder has impeccable credentials as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and superior
court judge appointed by Ronald Reagan. As deputy AG under Janet Reno, he championed
Clinton's
program to hire 100,000 cops, and federal prosecutors saw him as an ally. At
the same time, Holder may be the first AG in memory to question the instinctive
ratcheting up of sentences that Congress has engineered in recent years. As U.S. attorney
and as deputy AG, he started community prosecution and community outreach
programs to reconnect federal and local prosecutors with the citizens they
serve. At a time when judges, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the
president-elect are questioning the racially discriminatory impact of some
sentencing policies, Holder may be an important ally.

Restoring the
Traditions of Main Justice: After being wrecked by Alberto Gonzales, the
Justice department still needs to be resurrected as an institution above
politics. Michael Mukasey made some headway in restoring the professionalism of
prosecutors in the field, but left in place some of the partisan Bush hacks at
Main Justice, such as Steven Bradbury at the Office of Legal Counsel, who has
destroyed the apolitical traditions of the Office. As deputy AG, Holder,
supervised all of the administrative and enforcement components of the Justice
department, and understands the importance of professionalism rather than
politics. This is particularly important in offices like the Division of
Justice Management, which recently approved Gonzales's request for taxpayers to
pay his private attorneys fees (rather than relying on DOJ lawyers) in the suit
against him by law students who allege he refused to hire them because of their
political beliefs. What a relief it will be to have a Justice department where
you can trust that these sorts of decisions are being made on the merits rather
than for partisan reasons.

--Jeffrey Rosen

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