WASHINGTON — Attorney General Eric Holder was bidding farewell to the Justice Department on Friday after six years as the nation’s top law enforcement official.
Holder was addressing employees at an afternoon ceremony one day after his chosen successor, Loretta Lynch, was confirmed by the Senate following a months-long delay.
In a tribute video prepared for the occasion, Holder describes an “emotional attachment” to the department and recounts efforts to protect civil rights, prosecute terror suspects in federal court and change the criminal justice system.
“We could not be more grateful for everything that you’ve done not just for me and the administration, but for our country,” Obama says in the video, which also included appearances by members of Congress and Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone.
Holder, a former judge and U.S. attorney who took the job in 2009, will exit the department as the third-longest serving attorney general in U.S. history. He has not publicly announced what he’ll be doing next.
After Lynch, 55, is sworn in at the Justice Department on Monday, she’s likely to pursue some of the same agenda as Holder as the Obama administration draws to a close. But she’s also said she aims to have a cooperative relationship with Congress following years of bitter feuding between Republicans and Holder.
Holder’s tenure was in many ways defined by his efforts on civil rights protections. His department challenged state laws that it saw as restricting access to the voting booth and refused to defend the constitutionality of a federal law banning recognition of gay marriage. Holder also pushed for changes in the criminal justice system, directing prosecutors to sharply limit their use of harsh mandatory minimum sentences and championing alternatives to prison for nonviolent drug defendants.
Though Holder sees civil rights as a defining element of his legacy, his early years were defined by national security concerns as the country confronted several terror plots, including a failed effort to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day in 2009.
In his first months on the job, he pushed to have some terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay transferred to the United States and prosecuted in the federal court system, but the plan was ultimately derailed amid congressional opposition. He has since expressed feelings of vindication in the successful prosecution of terror plots in American courts, especially as the military tribunal system at Guantanamo has slogged along without major results.
He also faced criticism for the Justice Department’s aggressive stance in news media leak investigations, including the seizure of Associated Press phone records in 2013.
Holder will also be remembered for his clashes with Republican members of Congress, who considered him overly political and dismissive of their views, and once held him in contempt of Congress.