Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr., in a farewell speech on his last day at the Justice Department, said that the department’s political independence had been restored and that the argument over trying terrorists in civilian courts had been won.
Noting that he had worked at the Justice Department “on and off” since 1976, Holder said “this department has been restored to what it always was, free of politicization and focused on the mission without any kind of interference from political outsiders.”
Holder was apparently referring to the firing in 2006 of seven U.S. attorneys for political reasons by one of his Republican predecessors, Alberto Gonzales. Gonzales resigned in the aftermath.
Holder also claimed victory in a controversy that has rankled him since near the beginning of his tenure as attorney general in 2009. The argument over whether terrorism suspects can be tried in civilian rather than military courts “is over, it's dead,” he told a large crowd of staffers in the Great Hall of the Justice Department.
Though a number of terrorists have been convicted in civilian courts under Holder’s tenure, defendants in the 9/11 attacks still await military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, long after their trials would have been completed in civilian courts, Holder has said.
Holder also listed as victories the rejuvenation of the department’s civil rights division, lawsuits to protect voting rights against new restrictions imposed by the states, and aggressive efforts to expand the legal rights of gays.
Holder’s replacement, Loretta Lynch, will be sworn in by Vice President Joe Biden on Monday.
Holder is expected to go into academics rather than private practice, focusing on some of the issues of legal equality that he made his priority in office.