Though he’s been on the job for about two months, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. was formally installed today before a packed auditorium on George Washington University’s campus in a ceremony freighted with symbolism. Holder was introduced by President Barack Obama, who, The BLT noticed, is a few inches shorter than the nation’s chief law enforcer. This information will become relevant later.
The “installation ceremony” amounted to Holder’s second swearing in, this time before a large and distinguished crowd that included FBI Director Robert Mueller III, former Attorney General John Ashcroft, scores of judges from both the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, and Ethel Kennedy, wife of the late Robert Kennedy, for whom the Main Justice building is named. But the event was clearly a pitch to the ranks of the department’s career employees, who attended in droves and cheered loudly at seeing Obama and Holder, side by side.
Obama said he chose Holder -- a former federal prosecutor, D.C. Superior Court judge, and deputy attorney general -- for his depth of experience and practical approach to applying the law. Obama also underscored Holder’s independence. By way of example, the president noted that Holder had the temerity to question Obama’s basketball skills in a recent interview. Holder told a reporter that Obama couldn’t keep up with his “New York game.”
“We will see about that,” Obama said. (This is where height becomes a factor, but as Holder would later point out, he is 10 years older than Obama. “I’m the coach of the team on which he will be playing," Holder joked. But if he were 10 years younger..., the attorney general said, his voice trailing off.)
Game aside, Obama said Holder’s judgment would never be clouded by politics or ideology, a reference to the pall cast over the department in the past few years, as reports emerged of political considerations influencing hiring and firing decisions. A federal prosecutor is investigating the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
“These are mistakes that he will not make, because in the end, Eric comes to the job with only one agenda -- to do right under the law,” Obama said.
After Obama’s remarks, D.C. Superior Judge Robert Richter swore in Holder, as his wife, Dr. Sharon Malone, stood by. (Vice President Joe Biden Jr. presided over Holder’s first swearing in at the Justice Department, the day after he was confirmed.) Richter, a New York native like Holder, supervised the attorney general when he joined the Justice Department as a public integrity prosecutor in the 1970s.
Echoing his remarks from the first swearing in, Holder pledged to lead a department rooted in the principles of “adherence to the rule of law, equality before the law, and the applicability of due process.”
"There are some who say that the challenges we face are too grave, that the stakes are too high. And there are some who say that these principles weaken us as we meet the challenges of this modern age," Holder said. "But here is what I say: the power of this nation is at its zenith when the actions of our government are firmly grounded on the bedrock of the rule of law and the values that make our nation unique."
His remarks appeared to be a rebuttal of recent comments by former Vice President Dick Cheney that the Obama administration's goal to shut down Guantanamo Bay and do away with harsh interrogation methods is making the country less safe.
“It will not always be easy to solely let these principles serve as the enduring markers that will guide our path,” Holder said. “And it won’t always be popular, as we apply them to unfamiliar dangers. But it will always be right.”