The “People’s Lawyer”

September 29th, 2014

Listening to pundits describe Attorney General Eric Holder, it’s almost as if they’re talking about two entirely different people.

In announcing Holder’s resignation last week, President Obama described Holder as the “people’s lawyer.”  Given the various descriptions of his tenure it’s clear that Holder was actually only certain people’s lawyer. If you weren’t a member of the chosen few who he actively tried to represent then you were out of luck.

On that basis alone, Eric Holder’s career as Attorney General was decidedly a failure.

The Attorney General position is the most problematic in any president’s Cabinet.   This is because it requires appointment by essentially a very partisan person (the president) to what is supposed to be by a completely apolitical position. The instant politics enters into the mix in any Attorney General’s decision then the AG’s credibility is lost forever.

This makes sense because this is how the law is supposed to work.

Ever wonder how the most heinous criminal you can imagine is represented by a lawyer who then appears to bend over backwards defending that clearly vile person in court?  It’s because legal ethics require every attorney to vigorously represent the client’s legal position no matter what the individual attorney’s personal views may be.

This idea is so central to the legal system that many courthouses in this country and elsewhere boast among the décor a statue of Lady Justice, the Roman goddess of Justice.  In her right hand, she holds scales and in her left hand a double edged sword.   Many renditions of her also have her blindfolded. The blindfold represents the idea that the law is blind and doesn’t discriminate or play favorites.

The reason Eric Holder is so controversial is because he didn’t represent his client (i.e., the American people) equally.  For those he cared about, he relentlessly pursued their causes.  He did this even when the law clearly wasn’t on their side.

When it came to those he despised or didn’t care the least about, however, he exhibited either clear disdain for their plight or simply let their issues die in his office.  Examples of Holder either dismissing cases or refusing to allow his office to defend U.S. laws in federal court illustrate this point.

Obama described Holder as the “people’s lawyer,” but really there was only a single person he clearly cared about and that was Barack Obama. In fact, Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace notes that it’s commonly said around Washington that the Department of Justice is where potential scandals of the Obama administration go to die.  The worst five words many conservatives can hear are “the Justice Department will investigate.”

Eric Holder was far too political to truly faithfully carry out the duties of Attorney General. That’s why it’s good he’ll be leaving. Unfortunately, we may not be hearing the end of Holder.  Many former Attorney Generals became Supreme Court justices later in their careers.

Let’s hope the next Attorney General (who probably won’t be announced until after the midterm elections) carries out his or her duties as the law intends and truly is all the people’s lawyer and not just a lawyer for the chosen few.



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