The position of attorney general of the United States of America ought to command the highest level of respect. One of only four cabinet positions that can trace its origins to the administration of George Washington, it is among the highest stations in American life: chief law enforcement officer of a constitutional republic that stands, like no other country in the world, for the concept of equality before the law.
Yet during the tenure of Eric Holder, the Justice Department has become anything but a neutral arbiter. Indeed, who you are — and how that identity fits into the political schema of the left — is the most accurate predictor of what kind of treatment you’ll receive from the DOJ.
We were reminded of that unfortunate reality earlier this week, when Holder’s Justice Department announced that it was prohibiting the implementation of a Texas law requiring voters to present photo identification, claiming that it violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act (the DOJ had taken similar action against South Carolina in December).
Both cases are based on tortured rationales that requiring photo identification — which both states will provide to voters for free — discriminates against minority voters. And both states are suing in response. Yet, regardless of the outcomes of those cases, we can be sure that we haven’t seen the last of Holder’s racialist crusades. Since the very beginning of the Obama administration, his fixation on racial issues has been as consistent as it is divisive.
The first sign of this pernicious trend came in the earliest days of Holder’s tenure, when his Justice Department refused to prosecute members of the New Black Panther Party who stood outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day 2008 wearing paramilitary outfits and shouting racial slurs at white voters while one of them brandished a billy club. While video of the incident left the public aghast, the DOJ dropped nearly all of the charges and dramatically narrowed the others, claiming the press had overblown the entire affair.
Amidst allegations that senior Justice Department officials wanted the case killed because they didn’t believe that civil rights laws should apply to white voters, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights launched an investigation. During that time, one Justice Department official, J. Christian Adams, resigned his position after his superiors instructed him not to respond to a subpoena.
Attorney General Holder, for his part, was unmoved. When grilled on Capitol Hill about the Justice Department’s failure to follow through on the case, Holder snapped when Republican Congressman John Culbertson of Texas quoted Democratic activist Bartle Bull — who witnessed the event — as saying that it was “the most blatant form of voter discrimination I have encountered in my life.”
“Think about that,” replied the petulant attorney general. “When you compare what people endured in the South in the ’60s to try to get the right to vote for African Americans, and to compare what people were subjected to there to what happened in Philadelphia — which was inappropriate, certainly that … to describe it in those terms I think does a great disservice to people who put their lives on the line, who risked all, for my people.”
It was a moment of self-consciously righteous rage that spoke volumes about Holder’s psychology. There was racial tribalism (“my people”), the characterization of a disgusting event as something like a breach of etiquette (“inappropriate, certainly”) and a failure to grasp right and wrong in absolute, rather than relative, terms (whether or not the Black Panthers incident rose to the same level as the most egregious injustices of the Civil Rights era has no bearing on whether or not it should have been prosecuted). Each of those traits have been hallmarks of the Holder era.
The attorney general’s obsession with race has been monomaniacal. Within the first month of his tenure, he told DOJ employees at a Black History Month event that, when it comes to race, America is “essentially a nation of cowards.” In an interview with The New York Times late last year, Holder claimed that attacks on him were “a way to get at the president because of the way I can be identified with him, both due to the nature of our relationship, and, you know, the fact that we’re both African-American.”
At a speech in Atlanta just a few weeks ago, Holder showed there were no depths of minutiae he was unwilling to plumb when he complained, “We’ve often seen that students of color, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and students with special needs are disproportionately likely to be suspended or expelled. This is, quite simply, unacceptable. … These unnecessary and destructive policies must be changed.” Holder conveniently ignored, however, data that show those students were punished more often because they actually got in trouble more often.
This is the controlling thesis — perhaps the only thesis — that occupies Eric Holder’s mind: any public policy he disfavors can’t be motivated by honest disagreements about first principles or empirical realities; it must be the product of prejudices buried deep within the subconsciousness of its proponents.
When Arizona passed its tough new immigration law (which Holder’s Justice Department subsequently sued the state over), the attorney general publicly warned that the law had “the possibility of leading to racial profiling and putting a wedge between law enforcement and a community that would, in fact, be profiled” — yet Holder admitted at a congressional hearing less than a week later that he hadn’t even read the law.
He even used a similar rationale to defend Obamacare, writing an op-ed with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius where he compared attempts to overturn the law through the courts to efforts to defeat Civil Rights legislation decades earlier.
There is a touch of tragedy to Eric Holder. He is seemingly unaware that he lives in the most advanced era of racial relations in American history. That we have arrived here is a justifiable source of pride for the nation — and it ought to be even more so for the nation’s first African-American attorney general, a man who has seen the transition happen within the course of his own lifetime. For Holder, however, there is only suspicion, paranoia and a touch of vindictiveness. It goes beyond disturbing to see an office so big inhabited by a man so small.
Troy Senik, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, is a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom (www.cfif.org), where this commentary originally appeared. He is also an editor at Ricochet.com and a contributor for the Manhattan Institute.