How Eric Holder's Role as Attorney General Impacted the Obama Presidency

By Federika A. Cariati
2015, Vol. 7 No. 02 | pg. 3/3 |

Holder’s Impact on the Obama Presidency

On September 25, 2014, Eric Holder announced his resignation from Attorney General of the United States. In his statement to the press he said, “I come to this moment with very mixed emotions, proud of what the men and women of the department of justice have accomplished over the last six years and at the same time, very sad that I will no longer be a formal part of the great things that this department and this president will accomplish over the next two.” 45 In the same speech, he highlighted his friendship with the president.

Over the years, this dynamic duo has done work to shape Obama’s presidency as well as American politics well into the future. Since his announcement, publications across the spectrum from the New York Times to the Washington Post have tried to analyze the impact Holder’s tenure. Through the use of McGinnis’ model on analyzing the various AG roles, an analysis about Holder’s work can now be pursued.46

First and foremost, Holder and his offices’ defense of the president’s landmark legislation, the ACA, had and continue to have great a impact on American lives well as American politics. Since the act had been signed into legislation, 85% of consumers who signed up for insurance in the new health insurance marketplace have saved money on their monthly premium. Additionally, approximately 10 million Americans have gotten coverage since the beginning of the program. 47

Through Holder’s use of the court centric model and the way his offices applied legal precedent to the defense of the ACA, the employment of the act was made possible. Without it, the President’s greatest achievement since in office may not have ever been implemented. Not only have Americans benefited from Holder’s work, but Holder’s ability to continue defending the bill from republican motivated lawsuits, political landscape in American politics continues to be divided. On the website, “Obamacare” is described:

“The hideous abomination from hell must be eradiated. We The People must send a clear message to all future generations that we shall not stand for socialism of any kind. Obama Socialism is a political cancer which is terminal to our beloved nation.”48

The failure of this movement’s endeavor to strike down the ACA has only further ignited deeply divisive rhetoric from parties that oppose the President’s political agenda. In this case, through Holder’s work as AG in the court centric model, Obama’s presidency is shaped by the beliefs that the ACA is either a perceived threat or massive political triumph.

Obama’s presidency in regards to American politics in the Middle East has been fraught with inconsistencies. Where on the one hand, the President’s administration claims to restrict “enhanced interrogation” techniques used on detainees overseas, on the other, the executive branch looks for legal justification for the use of drone strikes. Holder’s role as the “President’s lawyer” has given the executive branch the ability to choose when to strive for idealism and when to turn a blind eye.

For an administration to claim that torture is unacceptable, overturning opinions in the OLC written during a past administration, and then to utilize a shaky justification for the use of drone strikes on an American citizen over seas, exposes a major moral flaw. But in defense of Holder’s role as the situational lawyer model, Holder did have an obligation to serve his president and to preserve the reputation of the White House as well as his own professional reputation. Regardless, the inconsistencies in this area of policy do not go unnoticed by the American public, creating doubt on how these inconsistencies will be perceived in the context of history.

Finally, Holder and President Obama’s friendship based on their similar life experiences have in turn shaped the way both individuals have chosen to do their jobs. Their bi-racial upbringings have certainly influenced the way both men view the roles of government institutions in inhibiting access to opportunity not only to Black and African Americans, but to all marginalized groups in civic society. As a result, Eric Holder’s legal work to preserve and expand civil rights has contributed to shaping Obama’s Presidency. In his role as an AG in the court-centered model and as the chief legal enforcer, Eric Holder has increased protection for women through his implementation of the SaVe provision made to the Violence Against Women’s Act. Through his direction, young women on college campuses and in Native American communities have more secured rights today than they did before Obama’s arrival in office.

As an independent authority, Holder actively chose not to defend DOMA as he felt it restricted the civil liberties to a minority group in our country. In an effort to expand those sacred rights to every marginalized group in the United States, Holder successfully challenged the law in Supreme Court. Again, Holder challenged the courts due to their ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case making a statement that has likely guided his approach to every civil liberties issue,

“Although today’s decision represents a serious and unnecessary setback, the Justice Department remains committed to moving forward in a manner that is consistent with the arc of American history – which has always been a story of increasing equality, inclusion and access to the franchise. This is what makes the United States of America truly exceptional. And this is what we will zealously guard.”49

In every one of these instances, Holder performed in a such way to ensure that Obama’s Presidency landed on the right side of American History.


111th Congress of the United States. "Nomination of Eric H. Holder, Jr. Nominee to be Attorney General of the United States." Hearing before the Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate. Washington DC: United States Congress, 2008. 1-291.

Barron, David J. Withdrawal of Office of Legal Counsel CIA Interrogation Opinions. Memorandum, United States Department of Justice, Washington DC: Office of Legal Counsel, 2009, 1.

Barron, David. Memorandum for the Attorney General RE: Applicability of Federal Criminal laws and the Constitution to Contemplated Lethal Operations Against Shaykh Anwar al -Aulaqi. Memorandum, US Department of Justice , Washington DC: Office of Legal Counsel, 2010, 41.

Caldwell, Leigh Ann, Jim Acosta, and Pamela Brown. "Attorney General Eric Holer Announces Resignation." CNN Politics. 9 25, 2014. (accessed 11 21, 2014).

Dayo, Olopade. "Eric Holder's War." The American Prospect, 2010: 12-17.

Defendants' Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. 3:10-cv-00091-RV/EMT (District Court for the Northern District of Florida Pensacola Division, 11 23, 2010).

French, Bill, and John Bradshaw. Ending the Enless War: An Incramental Approach to Repealing the 2001 AUMF. Policy Analysis, Washington DC: National Security Network, 2014, 35.

Garrison, Arthur H. "The Opinions by the Attorney General and the Office of Legal Counsel: How and Why they are Significant." The Albany Law Review 76 (2012): 217 - 246.

Hogan Lovells US LLP. New Requirements imposed by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act. Law Provision Summary, Washington DC: American Council on Education, 2014, 3.

Holder, Eric. "Letter from the Attorney General to Congress Regarding Defense of Marriage Act." Washington DC: Office of the Attorney General , 2 23, 2011. 6.

Hutson, Luther A., Arthur Selwyn Miller, Samuel Krislov, and Robert G. Dixon Jr. . Roles of the Attorney General of the United States. Washington, DC: American Enterprise Institute, 1968.

Johnson, Dawn. "Obama Administration's Decision to Defend Constitutional Equality Rather than the Defense of Marriage Act." Fordham Law Review 81 (2012): 20.

McGinnis, John O. "Models of the Opinion Function of the Attorney General: A normative, Descriptive, and Historical Prolegomenon." Cardoza Law Review (Yeshiva University), October 1993: 377-435.

Office of Public Affairs. "Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks on the Supreme Court Decision in Shelby County v. Holder." The United States Department of Justice - Justice News. 1 25, 2013. (accessed 11 12, 2014).

Office of Public Affairs. "Attorney General Holder Announces $2.6 Million in Grants for Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention." United States Department of Justice - Justice News. 9 22, 2014. (accessed 11 14, 2014).

Office of Public Affairs. "Department of Justice Announces University Tour by Administration Officials to Raise Awareness of Campus Sexual Assault." THe united States Department of Justice - Justice News. 4 21, 2014. (accessed 11 20, 2014).

Office of Public Affairs."Office on Violence Against Women Announces Two New Grants to Support Prosecutorial and Victim Services in Rural and Tribal Communities in the Bakken Region." The United States Department of Justice - Justice News. 4 25, 2014. (accessed 11 15, 2014).

Office of Public Affairs. "Statement of Attorney General Eric Holder on Closure of Investigation into the Interrogation of Certain Detainees." United States Department of Justice - Justice news. 8 30, 2012. (accessed 11 19, 2014).

Office of Public Affairs. "Statment by Attorney General Eric Holder on the House Passage of the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act." United States Department of Justice- Justice News. 2 28, 2013. (accessed 11 20, 2014).

Tea Party, Inc. No Obamacare. (accessed 11 21, 2014).

The Website. Eric Holder. A&E Television Networks. 2014. (accessed 11 17, 2014).

United States Department of Justice. Agencies. 11 26, 2012. (accessed 11 15, 2014).

US Department of Health and Human Services. "The Affordable Care Act is Working." Care. 11 21, 2014. (accessed 11 22, 2014).


1.) Hutson, et al. 1968

2.) McGinnis, Models of the Opinion Function, 378

3.) Hutson, et al., 1

4.) Garrison, The Opinions of the Attorney General, 222

5.) Garrison, The Opinions of the Attorney General, 223

6.) Hutson, et al., 5

7.) United States Department of Justice, 2012

8.) Hutson, et al., 41

9.) Hutson, et al., 3

10.) Hutson, et al., 10

11.) Hutson, et al., 60

12.) Hutson, et al., 71

13.) The Website 2014

14.) Dayo, Eric Holder’s War, 14

15.) 111th Congress of the United States, Nomination Hearing, 12

16.) Dayo, Eric Holders War, 13

17.) 111th Congress of the United States, 13

18.) 111th Congress of the United States, Eric Holder’s War, 13

19.) 111th Congress of the United States, Eric Holder’s War, 13

20.) 111th Congress of the United States, Eric Holder’s War, 15

21.) McGinnis, Models of the Opinon Function, 378

22.) McGinnis, Models of the Opinion Function, 400

23.) McGinnis, Models of the Opinion Function, 403

24.) West, Defendant’s Memorandum, 1

25.) West, Defendant’s Memorandum, 5

26.) McGinnis, Models of the Opinion Function, 384

27.) West, Defendant’s Memorandum, 5

28.) Hogan Lovells US LLP, New requirements, 1

29.) Office of Public Affairs, Eric Holder on House Passage of the Reauthorization VAWA, 2013

30.) Office of Public Affairs, Office of VAW Partners with Universities, 2014

31.) Office of Public Affairs, Holder Announces $2.6 Million in Grants, 2014

32.) Office of Public Affairs, Statment Eric Holder on Reauthorization of the VAWA, 2013

33.) Barron, Memorandum Re: Applicability of Federal Criminal Laws, 16

34.) Barron, Memorandum Re: Applicability of Federal Criminal Laws, 21

35.) French and Bradshaw , Ending the Endless War, 4

36.) McGinnis, Models of the Opinion Function, 11

37.) Office of Public Affairs, 2012

38.) David J. Barron, Withdrawal of Office of Legal Counsel, 2009

39.) McGinnis, 402

40.) Holder, Re: Defense of Marriage, 1

41.) Johnson, Obama Administration Decision, 604

42.) McGinnis, 6

43.) Office of Public Affairs, Holder Remarks on Shelby County v. Holder, 1

44.) Office of Public Affairs, Holder Remarks on Shelby County v. Holder, 2

45.) Caldwell, Acosta and Brown, Eric Holder Announces Resignation, 1

46.) However, limitations on this analysis should be noted. Holder’s work goes far beyond the examples chosen for the sake of this analysis. Therefore, the analysis done through this limited scope is not all encompassing.

47.) US Department of Health and Human Services, The ACA is Working, 1

48.) Tea Party, Inc. n.d.

49.) Office of Public Affairs, Holder’s Remarks on Shelby County v. Holder, 2

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