April 29, 2015 | Commentary on Legal Issues, Crime, Department of Justice

Eric Holder’s legacy

As Attorney General Eric Holder finally departs, he leaves behind a demoralized Justice Department that has been politicized to an unprecedented degree.

Attorneys general are obligated to enforce the law in an objective, unbiased and nonpolitical manner. They must demonstrate the highest regard for the best interests of the public and their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and the laws of the United States. Prior attorneys general of both political parties, such as Benjamin Civiletti, Griffin Bell, Ed Meese and Michael Mukasey, have fulfilled that duty to the highest ethical and professional standards.

But not Eric Holder. He put the interests of his political boss first, and the interests of the administration of justice a very distant second. When President Obama bent, broke, changed or rewrote the law, the person at his side advising him how to do it was Eric Holder. All the while, he maintained a facade of respect for the rule of law, something for which he and the president have, at times, shown utter contempt.

Mr. Holder’s failure to enforce federal laws such as our immigration statutes on a wholesale basis is a particularly acute betrayal of the most basic standard that applies to the attorney general. Instead of acting as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, Mr. Holder instead has acted as the political lawyer of an overly partisan president. Perhaps that’s why Mr. Holder has one of the lowest approval ratings of any public official.

The recent cases in which judges have found Justice Department prosecutors to have engaged in prosecutorial abuse during Mr. Holder’s tenure show how much this high-level corruption has also seeped into the lower levels of the department.

In a failed prosecution of a peaceful abortion protester, for example, a federal judge remarked on the nearly total lack of evidence of any violation of the law. The protester had been targeted to chill the political speech of pro-life advocates. In another case involving police officers in New Orleans, a federal judge found the Justice Department had committed “grotesque prosecutorial abuse” and complained about the “skullduggery” and “perfidy” of Justice prosecutors.

The politically motivated hiring in the civil service ranks that has gone on in parts of the Justice Department, such as the Civil Rights Division, guarantees that radical ideologues will continue to permeate the department for years to come. As former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy has said, under Eric Holder the Justice Department has become a “full employment program for progressive activists, race-obsessed bean counters (redundant, I know), and lawyers who volunteered their services during the Bush years to help al Qaeda operatives file lawsuits against the United States.”

The legal theories advanced by the administration have been so far outside of the mainstream that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against Mr. Holder’s Justice Department unanimously almost two-dozen times. Those cases have ranged from the Hosanna-Tabor decision, where the Justice Department claimed the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment did not protect the hiring decisions of a church, to the Sackett case, where the Justice Department tried to prevent a family from defending itself in court and contesting a ludicrous administrative order from Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrats that would subject them to a fine of up to $75,000 a day.

Many of those cases have a common theme: a frightening view of unlimited federal power, one untempered by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Eric Holder has aggressively used the enormous power of the Justice Department to abuse the liberty and economic rights of Americans, to manipulate racial politics and drive a wedge of hostility deep into our society, and to exploit the administration of justice as a political tool to benefit his president and his political party.

There is no way to know how long it will take to repair the damage he has done. One thing we do know — it will take a new attorney general with the political willpower and steadfastness of a kind that is rarely seen in Washington.

Unfortunately, it is unlikely Loretta Lynch will clean up Mr. Holder’s misbegotten legacy. She made it clear in her confirmation hearings that she did not disagree with a single act of Mr. Holder or Mr. Obama. Accordingly, her tenure will probably just be Holder 2.0.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, we won’t be invited to attend Eric Holder’s going-away festivities at the Justice Department, but we certainly approve of those festivities, since they mean that one of the worst attorneys general in recent memory is finally leaving the department.

Editor's Note: This article was co-authored by John Fund. 

 - John Fund is national-affairs correspondent for National Review Online.

 - Hans A. von Spakovsky a Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Hans A. von Spakovsky Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Originally appeared in The Washington Times