Women’s Rights, Civil Rights Leaders Urge Swift Confirmation of Eric Holder for Attorney General

Jodi Jacobson

Confirmation hearings for Eric Holder, nominated to be Attorney General in the Obama Administration, were originally planned on a fast-track.  Women's rights and civil rights leaders are calling on the Senate for swift confirmation. But Republicans leaders say "not so fast."

Women’s rights leaders joined today with members of the Senate and civil rights leaders to urge swift confirmation of Eric Holder for Attorney General of the United States.  Holder is a former United States Attorney, judge, and Deputy Attorney General and prior vetting through the Senate created expectations of a quick and easy confirmation process.  But if you thought that the economic crisis, global warming and other issues of breathtaking import would spur greater cooperation….wrong.  You can put away those copies of Kumbaya, because Republican leaders who originally gave the green light to Holder are now rediscovering reasons to stall.

The postponement of confirmation hearings, originally slated for this week, has led advocacy groups to increase public pressure on the Senate.  "The National Women’s Law Center strongly supports the nomination of Eric Holder for Attorney General of the United States," Marcia Greenberger, co-President of NWLC, stated today in calling for action on confirmation hearings.  

Mr. Holder’s background and demonstrated commitment to equal justice and to the enforcement of our nation’s core constitutional and legal protections make him the right person for this key position, and having the right person at the Department of Justice has never been more important.

[T]hroughout his career, Mr. Holder has worked to advance legal rights and protections crucial to the women of this country.  He has a strong record with regard to combating violence against women, protecting victims of bias-motivated crimes targeting gender or sexual orientation, enforcing civil rights protections, and increasing diversity in the legal profession.

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Greenberger asserted that Holder’s nomination could not come at a more crucial time. 

Over the past eight years the Department of Justice has failed to fulfill its mission of protecting and enforcing the legal rights of all Americans, and women and their families have suffered mightily as a result.  It has been politicized and the excellence of the career attorney ranks has been tested and undermined.

Under the Bush Administration, the DoJ has taken a number of actions that have undermined women’s rights.  For example:

  • The Department filed dramatically fewer sex discrimination cases on behalf of women under the Bush Administration than under the administration.  That means fewer jobs, lower paychecks and more suffering and struggle for women and their families.
  • It took positions in Supreme Court cases that cut back on women’s pension rights and ability to secure justice for the equal pay and other discrimination they suffered – cases like Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, and AT&T v. Hulteen, that simply upended settled law and longstanding government interpretations.  (See Amie Newman’s piece related to the Ledbetter case.)
  • It has failed to provide the Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers with the staffing or institutional support needed to effectively prevent, or respond to, continuing violence against reproductive health care clinics.
  • It was instrumental in the decision of the Small Business Administration to issue regulations that gut the Women’s Procurement Program, a federally authorized program designed to enable women-owned small businesses to receive a fair share of federal contracting opportunities.


Holder, by contrast, has proactively fought for the rights of both women and minorities.  He has spoken and written on innumerable occasions about the importance of increasing racial and gender diversity in the legal profession.  "This diversity is not only essential for all of the young men and women in our country who have the skills and determination to become lawyers but to the quality of legal services that they can provide to the people in their diverse communities," says Greenberger.  

And as I saw first-hand, as Deputy Attorney General Mr. Holder worked to ensure that our nation’s laws designed to promote fairness and equality were enforced.  He supported sorely needed legislation that would qualify bias-motivated crimes committed on the basis of gender and sexual orientation for enhanced penalties under federal hate crimes laws.  And he supported strong stands taken in key cases involving Title VII, Title IX, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, the Violence Against Women Act, among other statutory and constitutional protections that women depend on for access to jobs, to education, to adequate health care and to an equal place in our society.

As the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Mr.
Holder made combating domestic violence a priority.  Among other
initiatives, he created a Domestic Violence Unit and staffed the unit
with specially trained prosecutors to combat this pervasive problem.

Confirmation hearings were originally expected to go relatively smoothly and were to kick off the first week of action by the Senate, according to various reports, but have now been postponed until at least next week to accommodate requests by Republicans for more time.  Moreover, tension is mounting as several Republican Senators who earlier signaled support for Holder have found reasons to step back.

According to the New York Times, we are right back to politics as usual:

Republicans appear eager to use Mr. Holder’s nomination to assert their
ability to make life uncomfortable for the new administration, with
advisers suggesting that they hope the number of no votes cast against
Mr. Holder might approach the 42 such votes cast against John
Ashcroft’s nomination as attorney general eight years ago.

Apparently, Senator Arlen Specter now is leading the charge against Holder, to whose nomination he did not previously signal strong opposition. The Times reports that:

Before Tuesday, Mr. Specter had been mildly skeptical of Mr.
Holder’s his role in the Marc Rich pardon controversy while withholding
judgment on how he would vote. But he let loose on the Senate floor
with a speech that compared Mr. Holder to Alberto Gonzales, who was
forced to step down as attorney general despite close ties to President
Bush, criticizing his “ability to maintain his independence from the

In addition to the Rich pardon, Mr. Specter criticized Mr. Holder’s
actions in the Wen Ho Lee espionage investigation, the Waco siege,
allegations of campaign finance abuse by the Clinton White House, and
other matters.

Specter has joined others in asking that Holder’s hearings not be held until at least January 26th, a turnabout in his earlier agreement to hearings in early January.  According to Talking Points Memo:

Specter expressed surprise that Leahy, the committee chair, had
scheduled a January 8 kickoff for Holder’s confirmation hearing for the
Attorney General job.

In response, ranking Democratic Senator Patrick J. Leahy wrote a letter to Specter stating:

As I have said repeatedly from the time reports of his likely
designation began appearing in the press in mid-November, I thought we
should move promptly. It hardly came as a surprise when the
President-elect announced that Eric would be a key part of his national
security team at the designation announcement on December 1. My
recollection is that your initial reaction on November 18 was that you
were at that time already reviewing his record. Of course, Eric is
someone you and I both know well and have known and worked with for

We may be on the verge of a depression, but apparently the Republicans’ strategy is to revisit the Hatfield and McCoy playbook of feuding for the sake of feuding.  I find it ironic that after years of confirming people like Gonzalez whose qualifications and principals were so deeply in question that my 9-year-old son could figure out there was a problem we are now questioning the confirmation of an eminently qualified and widely respected candidate to whom the Republicans virtually gave the green light in December.

It appears that rather than pulling together to get a functional cabinet in place as quickly as possible in a time of unparalleled international and domestic crises, the Republicans have figured they will use the Senate fight in Minnesota, the sorry case of the Blagojevich/Burris controversy and the confirmation process to keep us going nowhere fast.

So much for changing the way Washington works. 

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