President Barack Obama should study the options carefully but waste no time picking a successor for U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who announced his resignation Thursday.
A lot is at stake. In Missouri, Holder got the Justice Department involved in two civil rights investigations into the shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old African American by a white Ferguson police officer. A St. Louis County grand jury is hearing evidence in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown.
Holder went to Ferguson last month after days of protests — many becoming violent and resulting in arrests. The nation’s first black attorney general properly announced the Justice Department’s civil rights investigations into Brown’s death and later an investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.
People remain upset over the slaying and the slow pace of justice. Fire on Tuesday destroyed a streetside memorial near where Brown was shot. Protests and unrest followed.
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No one should expect fast action by the Department of Justice. It’s still working on the 2012 shooting death in Florida of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
It’s good that Holder plans to remain in office until his successor has been nominated and confirmed. That will take time, especially if Republicans control the Senate after the Nov. 4 elections. Holder has drawn a lot of GOP fire. He was held in contempt of Congress in 2012 for refusing to turn over documents on the Justice Department’s failed gun-tracking program, also known as Operation Fast and Furious. Many called for his resignation.
He has been a lightning rod on civil liberties, justifiably so against the backdrop of phone-record surveillance and his department’s crackdown on news reporting.
But Holder chalked up well-earned gratitude for his emphasis on enforcement of civil rights laws, insistence on federal jurisdiction over guns and a campaign against racial disparities in sentencing. He has been committed to voting rights, legal benefits for same-sex couples, going after organized crime and rejecting torture of detainees in the war on terrorism.
Holder’s record reflects a devotion to America’s founding principles.