After appropriately questioning Atty. Gen.-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. about his past conduct and plans for the Justice Department, the Senate Judiciary Committee has approved his nomination by a lopsided margin. Holder deserves an equally overwhelming endorsement from the full Senate.
There were two reasons for the exacting scrutiny Holder received. One was his role as deputy attorney general in President Clinton's unconscionable pardon of Marc Rich, a fugitive from justice whose wife contributed to Clinton's presidential library. The second was the appalling politicization of the Justice Department under former Atty. Gen. Alberto R. Gonzales.
Holder offered the committee an appropriately abject apology for acquiescing in the Rich pardon. More important, he promised that as attorney general, he would ensure that before he recommended a pardon, he would consult with prosecutors in the case. It's notable that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee who scathingly criticized Holder's conduct in the Rich affair, ended up voting for his nomination.
The Rich pardon is a blot on Holder's record. But the record as a whole is exemplary. He has served not only as the No. 2 official in the Justice Department but as an anti-corruption prosecutor and a judge. He played an instrumental role in producing the consent decree under which the Los Angeles Police Department was required to upgrade its operations and monitoring in order to protect against further civil rights abuses. After Holder's nomination, the Judiciary Committee received a bipartisan blizzard of letters testifying to his character and credentials.
The second concern about Holder's record was a legacy from the Bush administration. After the Gonzales disaster, we had hoped that President Obama would entrust the department to an apolitical figure. Holder doesn't fit that mold, having served as an advisor to Obama's campaign. But Holder assured the committee that "the Department of Justice will serve justice, not the fleeting interests of any political party." More important, he specifically pledged to continue the policy instituted by Michael B. Mukasey, Gonzales' successor, of strictly limiting contacts between the White House and Justice about pending criminal cases.
Viewed in light of his entire career, those assurances should satisfy the Senate.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun