Eric Holder's Opening Statement at His Confirmation Hearing

Eric Holder's Opening Statement at His Confirmation Hearing

By Eric Holder - January 15, 2009

Mr. Chairman, Sen. Specter, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

I am deeply honored to appear before you today. In five days, just a short distance from this historic room, the next president of the United States will take the oath of office. He will swear to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. I have been asked by him to serve as attorney general, the Cabinet officer who is the guardian of that revered document.

I feel the full weight of this responsibility. If confirmed by the Senate, I pledge to you and to my fellow citizens that I will faithfully execute my duties as attorney general of the United States. I will do so by adhering to the precepts and principles of the Constitution -- and I will do so in a fair, just and independent manner.

This is the fourth time I have come before the Senate for confirmation to a position in law enforcement. I served almost 30 years as a prosecutor, judge and senior official within the Department of Justice. President-elect Obama and Vice President-elect Biden asked me to assume this responsibility because they know I will fight terrorism with every available tool and reinvigorate the department's traditional missions of protecting public safety and safeguarding our precious civil rights.

I accept their trust in me, and with your support I intend to lead an agency that is strong, independent and worthy of the name: "the Department of Justice."

I could not have arrived at this moment without the sacrifice and example of so many others. I begin, of course, by recognizing the support of my family. My wife, Sharon, a respected professional in her own right, has put up with a lot over the years because of my demanding work, and she has done so with the love and grace that characterizes all she does.

My wife is a tremendously talented physician. But the best examples of her skills and qualities as a person are on display not in her doctor's office but in our home in the form of our three children. They make our lives infinitely richer, and I thank them for their love and patience.

It wasn't until I was a parent myself that I truly appreciated all that my parents did for me. My father, only 12 years old when he came to this country from Barbados, worked hard throughout his life to teach my brother and me about the promise of America. He and my mother made sure we never wasted the opportunities presented to us, especially an education in the excellent New York City public school system. My brother grew up to be a Port Authority police officer and successful businessman, and I grew up to arrive at this humbling moment. I am glad my mother is here to see this day, and I know my father would be proud.

In addition to my family, there are others who have inspired and guided me. Sitting here today, the very day that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. would have celebrated his 80th birthday, I acknowledge the debt I owe him and the thousands of other Americans, black and white, who fought and died to break the back of segregation. Dr. King devoted himself to breathing life into our Constitution. I feel privileged just to stand in his shadow and hope that as attorney general I can honor his legacy.

One of those who served on the front lines of the struggle for equality was my late sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963. In an atmosphere of hate almost unimaginable to us today, she and fellow student James Hood faced down Gov. George Wallace, and in the presence of then-Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, they enrolled in the university.

The very next day, NAACP leader Medgar Evers was gunned down in his driveway in Mississippi. But Vivian never considered backing down. She went to class despite the ever-present danger, later saying simply that she "decided not to show any fear." She never did, throughout her too-short life. In a career in public service that began in the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, and ended as an advocate for environmental justice, she showed me the meaning of courage and perseverance.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the thousands of career employees at the Department of Justice. They have been my teachers, my colleagues and my friends. When I first joined the department's public integrity section in 1976, they showed me what it meant to serve the people. When I was the United States attorney in the District of Columbia, they worked beside me to fight violent crime, drug trafficking and public corruption. And when I was deputy attorney general of the United States, they were my troops in the daily battle for justice.

These career professionals are not only the backbone of DOJ, they are its soul. If I am confirmed as attorney general, I will listen to them, respect them and make them proud of the vital goals we will pursue together.

In fact, if I have the honor of becoming attorney general, I will pursue a very specific set of goals:

First, I will work to strengthen the activities of the federal government that protect the American people from terrorism. Nothing I will do is more important.

I will use every available tactic to defeat our adversaries, and I will do so within the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Adherence to the rule of law strengthens security by depriving terrorist organizations of their prime recruiting tools. America must be a beacon to the world. We will lead by strength, we will lead by wisdom and we will lead by example.

Second, I will work to restore the credibility of a department badly shaken by allegations of improper political interference. Law enforcement decisions and personnel actions must be untainted by partisanship. Under my stewardship, the Department of Justice will serve justice, not the fleeting interests of any political party.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Deputy Attorney General Mark Filip have done much to stabilize the Department and restore morale. For that, Judges Mukasey and Filip deserve the gratitude of the American people and they have my personal gratitude. But there is more work to do.

Third, I will reinvigorate the traditional missions of the Justice Department. Without ever relaxing our guard in the fight against global terrorism, the department must also embrace its historic role in fighting crime, protecting civil rights, preserving the environment and ensuring the fairness of the marketplace. To that end:

•DOJ must wage an aggressive effort against financial fraud and market manipulation. As taxpayers are asked to rescue large segments of our economy, they have a right to demand accountability for wrongdoing that only DOJ can provide. At the same time, we must rededicate ourselves to the fight against violent crime which tears at the fabric of our neighborhoods.

•DOJ must defend the civil rights of every American. In the last eight years, vital federal laws designed to protect rights in the workplace, the housing market and the voting booth have languished. Improper political hiring has undermined this important mission. That must change and I intend to make this a priority as attorney general.

•DOJ must protect American consumers. We need smart antitrust enforcement to prevent and punish unlawful conduct that hurts markets, excludes competition and harms consumer welfare. DOJ should also reinvigorate its efforts to protect the public in areas such as food and drug safety and consumer product safety. And we must work actively with EPA and other agencies to protect the environment.

In all of this, I hope to establish a full partnership with this committee and with Congress as a whole. The checks and balances in our Constitution establish a healthy tension among the three branches as each ensures that the others do not overstep their boundaries. But too often in recent years, that natural tension has expressed itself in unhealthy hostility.

President-elect Obama and I respect Congress. And we respect the federal judiciary. We will carry out our constitutional duties within the framework set forth by the Founders, and with the humility to recognize that congressional oversight and judicial review are necessary, beneficial attributes of our system of government. In particular, I know how much wisdom resides in this committee from your collective decades of service in government, and I will be sure to draw upon it.

The years I spent in government taught me a lot. As a public corruption prosecutor, I took on powerful interests to ensure that citizens received the honest services of the people who serve them. As a judge, I used the awesome power I had to deprive criminals of their liberty, a power that weighs heavily on anyone who exercises it. And as a high-ranking official in the Department of Justice, I faced a series of complex, time-sensitive prosecutorial and administrative decisions every time I stepped inside the building.

My decisions were not always perfect. I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct to justify the gratifying support I have received from colleagues in law enforcement in recent weeks. But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them.

I can also assure you that I will bring to office the principle that has guided my career - that the Department of Justice first and foremost represents the people of the United States. Not any one president, not any political party, but the people.

I learned that principle in my first days at the department, when I sent corrupt public officials from both parties to jail. It guided my work as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, when I prosecuted one of the most powerful members of my own party at the very time he held in his hands the top legislative initiative of my own president. And it guided my service as deputy attorney general, when I recommended independent counsel investigations not just of members of the Cabinet, but of the very president who appointed me and in whose administration I proudly served.

None of those calls was easy. But I made them because I believed they were the right decisions under the law. If confirmed as attorney general, I pledge to you that this same principle will guide my service and inform every decision I make.

I have spent most of my career at the Department of Justice and I cherish it as an institution. Its history, its spirit, its people and its sense of integrity are unmatched within the federal government. If I have the honor of serving as attorney general, I will uphold the trust you have placed in me. I will do so by ensuring that the department is an instrument of our great Constitution and the servant of the American people.

Holder is the Attorney General of the United States.

Eric Holder

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