Eric Holder Jr. announced his resignation as U.S. attorney general Thursday. His nearly six years in office have seen him deal with everything from trials for terrorists to the ongoing protests in Ferguson, Missouri, to enforcement actions such as the whopping $8.9 billion levied against BNP Paribas for transferring billions of dollars on behalf of several countries blacklisted by the United States.
He’s the first African American attorney general, and the fourth-longest serving AG in history, as well as one of the longest-serving members of President Obama’s cabinet.
His AG tenure at the Justice Department was a return trip to the agency, where he previously worked as a young corruption prosecutor and as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration. He also previously served as a partner at Covington & Burling, representing corporate clients.
Holder is likely to be most-remembered for his record on civil rights — for suing North Carolina and Texas over voting restrictions that disproportionately affect minorities and the elderly, launching 20 investigations of abuses by local police departments, and lobbying Congress to reduce prison sentences for nonviolent drug crimes. As he pointed out, many of those sentences disproportionately hurt minority communities.
On September 17, Holder addressed an audience at New York University to plead for greater financial rewards for whistleblowers and an increase in FBI agents dedicated to white-collar crime. In the same speech, he called on Congress to take steps to help prosecutors build criminal cases against senior Wall Street executives, saying companies often insulated their leaders from responsibility for misconduct.
Holder’s tenure was not without some controversy, as when the House voted him in contempt for refusing to hand over documents about a gun-trafficking program known as Fast and Furious. Under that program, the DOJ’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arrest them. The tactic was questioned, and none of the high-level cartel operators were arrested.
Holder is now 63. Wherever his next step takes him, his DOJ legacy was marked by civil rights advances and momentous judgments against corporate bad actors, and I’m eager to see who takes on the enormous weight of the role next.
Julie DiMauro works in the Governance, Risk and Compliance group at Thomson Reuters as a regulatory intelligence specialist. She can be followed on Twitter @Julie_DiMauro.