Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation, announced Thursday, hardly came as a surprise. One of the few remaining members of President Obama’s original cabinet, had long made no secret of his intention to step down before the end of the president's second term. Obama has repeatedly asked him to stick around, even though Holder is one of the most divisive attorneys general in history: In April, the House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress. His replacement is bound to be controversial and Obama will need the Senate to confirm his selection.
Holder has said he will remain in his post until his successor is named, potentially an effort to push a vote along before November’s midterm elections, which could end the Democrat majority in the Senate. It is more likely that the vote will occur after the midterms, either during the lame-duck session or even early next year.
The final years of Obama’s presidency will require the new attorney general to craft legal defenses for an increasingly expansive war against the Islamic State (and potentially, the Khorasan Group) and executive action on immigration. Here's are the four most likely successors.
The current U.S. solicitor general represents the federal government before the Supreme Court, making him well positioned to move into the job of giving legal advice to the government. In 2012, he defended Obamacare in what Mother Jonescalled “the worst Supreme Court argument of all time.” But he was ultimately successful and when the Supreme Court upheld the ruling in June, the first phone call Obama made was to thank Verrilli for his work.
The Senate confirmed Verrilli for his current position in 2011, by a 72-16 vote. Before that, he served as the White House deputy counsel to the president and was reportedly well liked in the administration, both professionally and personally.
Bharara was unanimously confirmed by the Senate in 2009 to serve as the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Since then, he’s had numerous courtroom successes prosecuting terrorists and white-collar criminals—areas in which Holder fell short. Bharara secured life sentences for Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, and Ahmed Ghailani, one of the orchestrators of the 1998 Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. He also prosecuted participants in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, sending Peter Madoff to prison for ten years.
Bharara has close ties from the very people who need to confirm him: He was the chief counsel and staff director to a Senate subcommittee on administrative oversight in the courts. But in August he negated rumors of his attorney general aspirations. “I have no interest and desire to seek political office,” he told The New York Times. “Not now of ever.” But that’s what they all say.
The current governor of Massachusetts is set to leave office in January, and happened to travel to Washington on Thursday, the day Holder announced his resignation. Coincidence? His office swears that the governor was already planning to head south for a Congressional Black Caucus event.
Under President Clinton, Patrick headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. He is the first black governor of Massachusetts, and capable of continuing Holder’s efforts to address racial tension between law enforcement and minorities. He is also a close friend and political ally of Obama. Speaking at a press conference Thursday morning in Boston, Patrick thanked Holder for his service as attorney general and added, “That’s an enormously important job but it’s not one for me right now.” Whether this statement is a requisite display of modesty, or a genuine lack of interest in the job, Patrick wouldn’t be the first person Obama has coaxed into a cabinet position.
Granholm has served as both the attorney general and governor of Michigan. She led the state through the economic recession, which hit her state especially hard. When the automotive and manufacturing industries were crippled, she focused on diversifying the economy and bringing clean energy jobs to Michigan.
Her legacy as attorney general of Michigan is mixed: she was praised for doing right by the law, even when it did not support her own policy or political inclinations. But Bill Ballenger, the editor of a local political newsletter, called her term unremarkable. “Nobody can remember an opinion by Jennifer Granholm,” he said back in 2009. “She didn’t leave an impression,” he added. “She really didn’t have time to leave an impression.”
Nonetheless, in 2013, Politico listed her among a group of people that Obama wanted to place in a high-level administration position.