Attorney General Eric Holder should be remembered for his failure to uphold the rule of law. As the most political attorney general in recent memory, Holder's legacy will be a department that made choices in what laws to enforce, based on partisanship, philosophical considerations and expediency.
That hurts all Americans. The rule of law — not of party bosses or oligarchs — is what guarantees our freedom.
Holder should not have earned this legacy. In his confirmation hearings, he pledged to put politics aside and enforce the law fairly, in the old phrase, without fear or favor.
"It did not take long for Holder's inspiring ‘Mr. Smith comes to Washington' story to become ‘All the King's Men,'" wrote law professor Jonathan Turley in USA Today. "Many of the cases that Holder brought and policies that he supported resulted in startling defeats. He lost a series of criminal cases seeking massive reductions in privacy and due process protections for citizens. He unwisely pursued cases such as Canning, where a unanimous Supreme Court curtailed the powers of the president to make recess appointments."
That was just the start of a series of decisions based on political expedience, not the law.
"Holder personally announced Obama's ‘kill list' policy, in which the president claimed the right to kill any U.S. citizen on his sole authority without a charge, let alone a conviction," Turley explained. "Holder's department used the controversial Espionage Act of 1917 to bring twice the number of such prosecutions of all prior presidents under the Act. Journalists were placed under surveillance in a record that rivaled that of President Nixon. Holder led an appalling crackdown on whistle-blowers. Holder fought to justify massive warrantless surveillance and unchecked presidential authority to attack other countries without congressional approval."
Holder continually defied Congress as it sought to look into government actions, including the "Fast and Furious" gun-walking scandal, and the IRS targeting of conservative groups. He withheld documents and witnesses from congressional oversight committees, and eventually was held in contempt of Congress — the first attorney general to be so rebuked.
Many on the left — including Turley, a professor at George Washington University — had high hopes that Holder would help guide the nation forward on racial issues. Here, too, Holder disappointed.
"While Holder can be credited with not shying away from our race conflicts, his actions, such as intervening in the Zimmerman case (after the shooting of Trayvon Martin) and the recent Ferguson shooting were viewed by many as premature. His calling the United States a ‘nation of cowards' on race was a brave but also a divisive moment," Turley wrote. "In the end, however, his positive work in the area of civil rights will ultimately be eclipsed by his destructive legacy in the area of civil liberties and constitutional government."
When rights and liberties are compromised to advance a political agenda, even those who benefit initially soon find themselves with fewer rights and liberties.
Eric Holder's record of failure to uphold the rule of law will be his only legacy. That's tragic.