01.15.09

Opening Statement At Holder Confirmation Hearing

The election of Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and the President-elect’s selection of Eric H. Holder Jr. to be Attorney General of the United States, provide an historic opportunity for the country to move past the partisanship of the past decades.  We can make a real difference if we will come together to solve the Nation’s problems, protect against serious threats, and meet the challenges of our time. 

Let us honor the wishes of the American people who in November broke through debilitating divisions to join together in record numbers.  Let us acknowledge that our inspirational new President-elect has moved forward promptly to assemble an extraordinarily well-qualified and diverse group of Cabinet officers and advisers.  And let us move away from petty partisanship to serve the greater good.

It was seven score and four years ago that this Nation answered the fundamental question President Lincoln posed in his Gettysburg Address and the world learned that liberty, equality and democracy could serve as the foundation for this great and united Nation.  

The American people have cause and occasion to reflect during the next several days about this great country.  The inauguration of our new President is Tuesday, and Monday is the holiday the country has set aside to celebrate and rededicate ourselves to the cause of freedom and equality.  Today is the anniversary of the birthday of the extraordinary man for whom that holiday is named.  With this hearing, we take another step up the path toward the time Dr. King foresaw: when people are judged by the content of their character.  Eric Holder has the character to serve as the Attorney General of the United States.  He passes any fair confirmation standard.  His record of public service has earned him strong support from law enforcement organizations, civil rights groups, victims’ rights advocates, former Reagan and Bush administration officials, and many others. 

This week, the Justice Department’s Inspector General released a report about the shameful political interference in the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department during the Bush administration.  America’s diversity when drawn together is a source of our Nation’s strength and resilience.  Americans must be able to trust their Justice Department. That trust must not be squandered or taken for granted.  We need leaders who are prepared to take the laboring oars of a Justice Department whose dedicated law enforcement professionals have been misused and demoralized.  Eric Holder is such a leader.

Before the November election I coauthored an article with our Ranking Republican member in which we wrote:  “The Attorney General’s duty is to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law, not to circumvent them.  The president and the American people are best served by an Attorney General who gives sound advice and takes responsible action, rather than one who develops legalistic loopholes to serve the partisan ends of a particular administration.”  I have every confidence that Eric Holder is such a person. 

The career professionals at the Justice Department reacted with delight when he was designated by President-elect Obama because they, too, know him well.  They know him from his 12 years as an anti-corruption prosecutor at the Public Integrity Section, from his time as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, from his tenure as a judge, and from his service as the Deputy Attorney General.  His prompt confirmation will do a great deal to restore morale and purpose throughout the Justice Department.

It is important that the Justice Department have its senior leadership in place without delay.  The Attorney General is the top law enforcement officer in the country and a key member of the national security team.  With the Bush administration having devoted billions to bailouts in the last few months, we need to ensure that those resources are not diverted by fraud or deceit.  We need the Justice Department to be at its best.

I was encouraged by the initial reaction of many Republicans, including Senators serving on this Committee, when Mr. Holder’s name was reported as the likely nominee and when he was designated by the President-elect.  I commended their bipartisanship, as I do that of Senator John Warner who will introduce Mr. Holder to the Committee.

The responsibilities of the Attorney General of the United States are too important to have this appointment delayed by partisan bickering.  We have known and worked with Mr. Holder for more than 20 years.  He has been nominated by a Republican President and by a Democratic President and confirmed three times by the Senate to important positions over the last 20 years.  His record of public service, his integrity, his experience and his commitment to the rule of law merit our respect and deserve our support. 

We need an Attorney General, as Robert H. Jackson said 68 years ago, “who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.”  That is the kind of man Eric Holder is, the kind of prosecutor Eric Holder always was, and the kind of Attorney General he will be.  The next Attorney General will understand our moral and legal obligation to protect the fundamental rights of all Americans and to respect the human rights of all people.   

This is part of the change we need, the change the American people voted for.  When he designated Mr. Holder, President-elect Obama said:  “Let me be clear. The Attorney General serves the American people.  And I have every expectation that Eric will protect our people, uphold the public trust, and adhere to our Constitution.”  The next president understands the role of the Attorney General of the United States.  I have no doubt that Mr. Holder understands what is required of the Attorney General.  His experience and the lessons he has learned will serve him and the American people well.                                                  

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