Legislature will keep Eric Holder as outside counsel for another month, but longer-term plans are unclear

Legislature will keep Eric Holder as outside counsel for another month, but longer-term plans are unclear
California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), left, former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount), walk to a meeting. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The initial three-month contract for former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. to serve as outside counsel to the California Legislature is being extended for another month, legislative leaders said Monday.

But long-term plans to keep Holder and his firm, Covington & Burling, on contract to provide additional legal firepower against the Trump administration are still to be determined.


Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) told The Times he planned to "move forward" in retaining Covington's services indefinitely.

But Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) was less open-ended in discussing future work with the firm.

"We're renewing the contract for a month," Rendon said in an interview. "Then we'll evaluate."

Hiring Holder was an unorthodox and high-profile move, signaling California legislators' pugnacious stance toward the Trump administration even before the president was sworn into office.

Though Covington's role has been behind the scenes, both legislative leaders said the firm's attorneys gave input on some of the most pressing issues facing the Legislature, including the constitutionality of De León's proposal to make California a so-called sanctuary state and a Senate effort to enshrine federal environmental protections in state law.

Rendon said Holder also advised lawmakers to refrain from being too aggressive in pursuing a "states' rights" legal strategy at the risk of creating legal precedent that could be damaging later on.

"If we pursue a pure states' rights stance, that may tie our hands if there was someone else in the White House or if Congress was somehow different," Rendon said.

A spokesman for Rendon said Covington would also be working on an amicus brief siding with Santa Clara County, which has sued the Trump administration over its executive order on sanctuary cities.

The initial contract, which was set at $25,000 a month for three months, expired at the end of April. The cost is being covered by the Senate and Assembly operating budgets.

As De León explores keeping Covington on contract long-term, he said, "we're going to look for diverse streams of funding to see how we can cover those costs without it coming from the general fund."

The Senate leader said the first months of President Trump's tenure have underscored the need for ramped-up legal assistance, even though some of his early executive orders — such as his travel ban on visitors from certain Muslim-majority countries — have so far stumbled in the courts.

"I still do think it's dire; there's no question about it," De León said. "We've never had a president who has churned out so many executive orders with a very clear intent to undermine the state of California."

Though Trump has been stymied by the courts, De León added, "as long as the intent is there to undermine California at every which way possible, we have to be prepared to defend California and our economic prosperity."

Rendon said Californians have "certainly" gotten their money's worth in hiring Covington. But he was less certain about whether the Assembly and Senate were on the same page about the contract's future.


"I'm not sure," Rendon said. "I know we're on the same page of wanting to extend for another month."

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