Eric Holder looks like Obama's pick for attorney general. I've been impressed by him ever since interviewing him in the '90s, when he was U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and identified the phenomenon of the single "unreachable" D.C. juror--often an African American woman--who refused to deliberate and hung the jury 8-1. He'll be good for the Justice department in at least two ways:
Nixon in China on Crime: Holder has impeccable credentials as a tough-on-crime prosecutor and superior court judge appointed by Ronald Reagan. As deputy AG under Janet Reno, he championed Clinton's program to hire 100,000 cops, and federal prosecutors saw him as an ally. At the same time, Holder may be the first AG in memory to question the instinctive ratcheting up of sentences that Congress has engineered in recent years. As U.S. attorney and as deputy AG, he started community prosecution and community outreach programs to reconnect federal and local prosecutors with the citizens they serve. At a time when judges, the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and the president-elect are questioning the racially discriminatory impact of some sentencing policies, Holder may be an important ally.
Restoring the Traditions of Main Justice: After being wrecked by Alberto Gonzales, the Justice department still needs to be resurrected as an institution above politics. Michael Mukasey made some headway in restoring the professionalism of prosecutors in the field, but left in place some of the partisan Bush hacks at Main Justice, such as Steven Bradbury at the Office of Legal Counsel, who has destroyed the apolitical traditions of the Office. As deputy AG, Holder, supervised all of the administrative and enforcement components of the Justice department, and understands the importance of professionalism rather than politics. This is particularly important in offices like the Division of Justice Management, which recently approved Gonzales's request for taxpayers to pay his private attorneys fees (rather than relying on DOJ lawyers) in the suit against him by law students who allege he refused to hire them because of their political beliefs. What a relief it will be to have a Justice department where you can trust that these sorts of decisions are being made on the merits rather than for partisan reasons.