Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. opened up today about the legacy he wants to leave at the U.S. Department of Justice, saying he wants to be remembered for leading a department that was "prepared to take some heat for doing that which was right."
Holder has taken heat during his tenure as the nation's top law enforcement official, from calls for his resignation and a contempt of Congress charge on Capitol Hill to questions about his department's handling of national security leak investigations and the decision not to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
But today in Virginia, before a friendlier crowd of public service lawyers and law students at the Equal Justice Works annual conference, the first-black attorney general discussed his career and sprinkled in jokes about basketball and the big compensation he took home when he worked at Covington & Burling.
Judge Ann Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit conducted a wide-ranging interview of the attorney general. Holder, in his remarks, didn't shy from controversial issues—including the department's challenge of voter identification initiatives in Texas and in North Carolina. The department filed suit in federal courts in those states to fight the measures.
"This whole notion of voter fraud and the need to come up with photo ID to combat voter fraud is really a solution that's in search of a problem," Holder said today.
Holder said there's "no empirical evidence that there is vote fraud out there. We're not against identification people need to identify themselves as who they are before they vote. The notion you need a photo ID or some form of identification that is not easily available to people is something that is inconsistent with who we are as a nation."
Holder gave some advice to young lawyers. If you want to be a litigator, go to court and watch, he said. Balancing work and life is important and something he works on, going home at 7 or 7:30 p.m. most nights. You can be a public service lawyer wherever you're employed, even at a big firm like Covington, where the paychecks were "pleasantly surprising," he said.
Williams asked Holder at the end of the Q&A: What do you want your legacy to be?
"In terms of legacy, I think people will say this is a guy who grew up in Queens and had a good jump shot—from 15 to 17 feet I was deadly," Holder said to laughter from the audience. "I could dunk also."
"But as attorney general I'd like people to say that he led a department that focused on the great issues of the day and that to the best of their abilities they came up with solutions," Holder said. "They took stands that were just, that were appropriate, that were consistent with all that’s good about the nation."
“They weren't always popular, they weren't always politically smart, but at the end of the day they were right. And they were prepared to take some heat for doing that which was right," Holder said. "And then hopefully people will say what we did advanced the cause of justice and that we left the nation and the Justice Department better than we found it."