By Robert Weiner and Hannah Coombs
Originally Published in the Michigan Chronicle
As Attorney General Designee Loretta Lynch prepares to move from final Senate approval to serving as the Nation's Attorney General, the question is whether Congress will allow her, the country's first African American woman Attorney General, to continue Holder's enormous legacy. The hearings were more, "You're not Holder are you?" than what she will do herself. Even after Lynch took the first step with a Senate Judiciary Committee vote by 12-8, Congress is still playing politics over a spotless nominee -- no one had any objections but Republicans still voted no -- and prolonged her assumption of the post.
At a farewell speech at the National Press Club on February 17, Holder told the audience, "Real and daunting challenges lay before us". Aside from reporting his success with the Justice Department and the "Smart on Crime Initiative" to reduce unnecessary incarcerations, Holder discussed what still needs to be done.
Initially breaking ground as the first African-American Attorney General, Holder established his legacy over the past six years with criminal justice reform, same-sex marriage and expanding voter rights.
He asserted, "Not every drug case should be brought to the federal court." He stressed the excessive funds wasted on mandatory minimum sentences, saying that these punishments would be "better suited to violent criminals or drug kingpins".
Holder announced developments under his department including advances for civil rights with the Ferguson case. Following the Michael Brown killing, Holder and his team conducted an on-going civil rights investigation of the Ferguson Police Force. On March 4th, he issued what he called a "searing" report, forcing the police department to end racially "disproportionate" arrests or face a law suit from the Justice Department.
During questions at the Press Club, he made news supporting a moratorium on executions until the Supreme Court ultimately decides on the constitutionality of lethal injection drugs pending in Oklahoma. He said he is known for being openly against the death penalty, and he gave his reasoning: "Our system of justice is the best in the world"but there is always the possibility that mistakes will be made", saying that is his "ultimate nightmare".
When asked about authorizing surplus military equipment for police, as used in Ferguson protests, Holder commented that it depends on "what kind of training do they have", "when should it be deployed" and "what does it look like". It also comes down to the appearance of the weapon. "If it looks like the military is in fact occupying American streets during civil disturbances, that, I think, is not a good thing for the American people or for the world to see." He described the differences between rural communities and a terrorist attack in New York where military combat equipment might be necessary, including occasions where "we have failed before".