Eric Holder Is Just About Done Being Attorney General

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill March 6, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder was asked about a variety of topics, including the federal budget sequester, the Fast and Furious program, the use of drone strikes on domestic targets and voter rights.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images2013 Getty Images

Five-plus years into his tenure as the first black attorney general in United States history, Eric Holder will announce his resignation on Thursday — but not leave the office until his successor is confirmed, NPR reports. Although Holder is “adamant” that he not serve through President Obama’s second term, the replacement process could easily be drawn out into next year. Holder, a relentless champion for civil rights and no friend of Congress, is already the fourth-longest-serving attorney general. 

The White House was not quite ready to see him go, NPR reports:

In the end, the decision to leave was Holder’s alone — the two sources tell NPR that the White House would have been happy to have him stay a full eight years and to avoid what could be a contentious nomination fight for his successor. Holder and Obama discussed his departure several times and finalized things in a long meeting over Labor Day weekend at the White House.

He’s made no secret that those plans have been percolating, telling The New Yorker in February that he would leave sometime in 2014. (“The question is whether he will leave with a triumph or enable his adversaries to limit and restrict the laws that mean the most to him,” wrote Jeffrey Toobin at the time.)

I haven’t really set anything in my own mind in terms of the time frame,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post in May. “In terms of my own thinking of how long do I stay — my wife asks me this way more than you do — I talk about tasks and trying to see certain things through,” he added. “I want to try to get a few things done before I ultimately leave.”

Most recently, Holder was dispatched to Ferguson, Missouri, to help ease racial tensions in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting. He’s also backed a plan to shorten drug sentences both in the future and retroactively. “This is a milestone in the effort to make more efficient use of our law enforcement resources and to ease the burden on our overcrowded prison system,” he said of the achievement.

A 2010 GQ profile by Wil Hylton framed Holder’s chief aims:

Ultimately, what convinced Holder to accept the position had as much to do with George W. Bush as Barack Obama. In the span of eight years, the Bush administration had transformed the DOJ in ways that offended Holder deeply. Nowhere was the change more visible than inside the Civil Rights Division, which Holder calls the department’s “crown jewel.” Since its creation in the 1950s, the CRD had always been on the forefront of America’s quest for equal rights, a place where the nation’s standards of fairness were etched into case law, one difficult decision at a time. Yet under the Bush team, the CRD had become a bastion of discrimination itself.

Four years later, he told The New Yorker, “The fact that I’m sitting here and talking to you as an African-American Attorney General is an indication that our nation is in a fundamentally different place than it was a hundred and fifty years ago, fifty years ago. But we’re not at the place yet where we want to be.” In this role, however, Holder may have done all he can.