Eric Holder's 1997 Deputy A.G. Confirmation Hearing
On June 13, 1997, at age 46, Eric Holder was confirmed by the Senate as Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno. His confirmation hearing lasted two hours, pretty smooth sailing. The transcript is here. Some snippets, in his own words:
On his objectives:
First, to work with the attorney general in making sure that federal law enforcement resources are used wisely to address the major crime problems confronting our nation -- drugs, violence, gangs, juvenile crime, and official and financial corruption.
Second, to see that the federal law enforcement agencies work with their state and local counterparts to help them meet the challenges of safeguarding our streets and neighborhoods in our cities, towns, and also in our rural communities.
Third, to work in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies to reduce and prevent juvenile crime, by balancing tough enforcement measures with targeted, effective prevention and intervention initiatives. We need to target gangs, guns, and drugs if we are to meet the challenge of an unacceptably high crime rate involving our young people. But we must also commit ourselves to eradicating the conditions that breed youth crime.
Fourth, to ensure that the Department of Justice works hand in hand with our companion government agencies to forge cooperative relationships around the world to meet the challenges that go beyond our borders -- terrorism, international drug trafficking, illegal immigration, organized crime, and other threats to our society.
Fifth, to assist the attorney general in managing the extraordinary resources and talents of the men and women at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Immigration and Naturalization service, the Marshal service, and our other components to work smarter, seize the initiative, and be prepared for the challenges of the information age. And to prosecute with the full force of the law, those who prey on our young people, our businesses, our financial and health care systems, and our vital government programs.
And finally, to use my status as the first black deputy attorney general should I be confirmed, to help foster a dialogue between our diverse peoples about the issue of race. And the hope that we can work to heal the racial divisions that have bedeviled this nation since its inception.
Describing his background:
I have learned many insightful things from my father and mother, but chief among them is a full understanding of not only the privileges but also the responsibilities of being a citizen of this great country. You see, my father was not born in this country, nor were my mother's parents. Eric Holder, Sr., who you have met, is 93 years old and was born in Barbados in the West Indies. And he therefore has a special perspective on this issue. He came to America as a 12-year-old while World War I was raging, because his family recognized back then what is still true today -- the United States is a beacon of hope and a land of opportunity.
During World War II when my father was fully 40 years old, he joined the army to serve his adopted country. Although he encountered hostility while in uniform in the then-segregated portions of our nation during his tour in the military, this adversity never hardened my father's heart. It merely strengthened his resolve to do the very best that he could, and he passed this resolve to his sons. To be sure, if confirmed I will encounter a host of sobering challenges. But my family upbringing and my professional experiences over the last two decades have, I believe, laid a firm foundation for the action that will be required of me.
While in law school in the mid-1970s, I clerked at the Department of Justice's Criminal Division. After graduation, I joined the Department of Justice as a part of the attorney general's honors program and was assigned to the newly-formed Public Integrity Section. For the next 12 years, I investigated and prosecuted official corruption on the local, state and federal levels. The defendants in these cases included appointed and elected officials all across the country who had broken their sacred bond with the people they were supposed to serve. Prosecuting these cases brought me into the trenches where I battled aggressively but always fairly to ensure that criminals were held accountable and that justice was ultimately done.....
1988, I became an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, and during the next five years I presided over hundreds of criminal trials and witnessed the devastation that can be traced to two simple elements; illegal drugs and senseless violence. As a judge, I also saw how poverty, despair, and failure to take personal responsibility for one's life and one's family tended to intensify the negative conditions that too many of fellow citizens, particularly our young people must endure.
And where appropriate, I sentenced to long prison terms those criminal predators who had ensnared themselves in drugs and who had committed acts of violence and who had destroyed the lives of others.
My 20 years of service in the public sector have made me more, not less enthusiastic about the opportunities to develop new and creative ways to instill the values of honesty, personal responsibility, and community in our young people who would otherwise be simply written off. That is why for many years now I have been personally involved in programs designed to assist young people in dealing with the hurdles they invariably encounter in their lives.
I am, as has been indicated, a long time member of Concerned Black Men. An organization that seeks to help the youth of this city by among other things helping them to understand the importance of preventing teenage pregnancy, and improving academic performance.
We must all work to save our children. All, of our children today. I have spoken at many schools in an effort to break the cycle that transforms far to many bright and inquisitive elementary school students into alienated and disaffected high school kids. I have served as a mentor to the boys at the Amidon Elementary School here in Washington in an attempt to help guide them as they face the confusion and challenges of adolescence.
The adoption of Amidon Elementary School by my office was one of the steps I took shortly after becoming the United States Attorney in 1993. I believe we have affected and altered in a very positive way the lives of many young people at Amidon. It is among my proudest achievements as United States Attorney.
At the direction of the president and the attorney general, I spearheaded the Federal Assistance Program, an initiative to increase coordination and cooperation among various federal law enforcement agencies and the Metropolitan Police Department so that the streets of our nation's capital are safer for people who live here, work here, and who visit here.
I developed Operation Cease Fire, a project designed to reduce violent crime by getting guns out of the hands of criminals. I revitalized my office's victim witness assistance program to better help those people who are essential to the working of the criminal justice system and drafted and proposed legislation that was ultimately passed by our city council that made witness intimidation an offense punishable by up to life imprisonment.
I also launched a children's initiative geared toward devising a comprehensive strategy to improve the manner in which child abuse cases are identified, handled, and prosecuted. I created a new domestic violence unit in order to make our office more effective in handling these tragic cases. I worked with a variety of organizations to support a renewed enforcement emphasis on hate crimes so that criminal acts of intolerance are severely punished.
And I made the citizens of Washington our partners in fighting crime by appointing a director of community relations and by instituting a community prosecution program.
As United States Attorney I have supervised the prosecution of corrupt public officials, dishonest police officers, international terrorists, an attempted presidential assassin, violent gangs, ruthless murderers, cop killers, and drug kingpins.
In all, more than 30,000 prosecutions have been handled by my office during my tenure as United States Attorney.
On Mandatory Minimum Sentences:
SEN. LEAHY: And I'm just going to move on to another line of questioning. (Laughter.) Do you support mandatory minimum penalties?
MR. HOLDER: Yes, I think they can be appropriate. I have testified in favor of mandatory minimum sentencing in front of a D.C. City Council, with regard to the drug offenses that so -- have so wrecked Washington, D.C. I think, with regard to violent crimes, they can be of great use.
SEN. LEAHY: Do you feel that all the federal mandatory minimum penalties that are on the books now, are just right the way they are? Or do you think maybe we ought to be looking at them?
MR. HOLDER: Well, I think we should constantly look at the law as it exists, so that we have on the books laws that are effective, and that are consistent with where we'd like to be in law enforcement. I think a periodic review of the laws, the mandatory minimum laws as well as just our sentencing structure in general, is appropriate.
SEN. LEAHY: I have voted for a number of mandatory minimum sentencing bills, but I am growing increasingly concerned that they are being used heavily on low-level drug offenders; that the American people, both at the federal level and at the state and local levels, are being saddled with enormous bills, way into the future. Long after you and I will be out of public office, they'll still be paying off bond issues and what not for new prisons, and for retirement of prison personnel, and end up warehousing an awful lot of young people who, no matter what we say about rehabilitation in prison, usually don't get it, and come out unable to seek jobs or anything else. And I find that my own thinking changes, depending upon whether we're talking about mandatory minimum for a violent crime involving a weapon, a knife, a gun, a baseball bat or anything else, as compared to some of the lower-level drug offenders. Are we getting into a problem here? I look at the backlogs of courts; I look at the overcrowding of prisons. And I look at some of the people that are being released from prison, who are not there under mandatory minimums but were there for very violent crimes, to make room for mandatory- minimums of lower-level drug cases. Do we have a problem?
MR. HOLDER: I am not sure that we have a problem in the federal system. I certainly have seen that with regard to some state systems. But as I said, I think we should always be mindful of the effects that our laws have on the corrections system, the effect it has on the perception of people in their sense of whether or not the justice system is a fair one or not. And we should always constantly strive to make sure that the laws that we have on the books and that we are asked to enforce, are fair and are perceived as being fair.
SEN. LEAHY: I think we'll probably have more discussions of this as we go along. A number of us, on both sides of the aisle here, have expressed concern about where they are and how they should be done. ...
SEN. SPECTER: Mr. Holder, philosophically do you agree with the imposition of the death penalty?
MR. HOLDER: I am not a proponent of the death penalty, have stated that publicly on many occasions, but would not hesitate to enforce any law that this Congress has passed that has a death penalty provision.
SEN. SPECTER: So that if an issue came before the Senate, illustratively, and you were in the Senate, you would vote against the death penalty?
MR. HOLDER: It would depend on what the provision was. I have testified before the D.C. City Council that it is the policy of my office, where a law enforcement officer is killed, to seek the death penalty in that situation.
SEN. SPECTER: Yesterday, in this room, we took up the Juvenile Justice bill, and there's a
proposition to have very substantial federal funding with the import of affecting violent juvenile crime. And we know that it is an enormous problem, and that juveniles in their early teens, both boys and girls, young men and young women, are committing crimes of violence, and the question is how to do something about it. We are now talking about, in the House bill, prosecuting 13-year- olds as adults.
The Senate bill has a delineation of 14. And my own view is that, when we deal with the problem of violent crime, both as to juveniles and as to adults, we ought to separate them in two Categories. If we're dealing with career criminals, people who have committed three or more major offenses -- and I wrote the Armed Career Criminal bill that was adopted in 1984, providing for up to life sentences for career criminals -- then it's doable to put them in jail forever; to lock them up and, in effect, throw away the key.
But there's a second category of individual who will be released one day from jail. And I think that it is indispensable that we take into account what's going to happen when that person comes back, as a matter of public safety and as a matter of what is going to happen to that individual. If you release from custody a functional illiterate without a trade or a skill, it is no surprise when that person becomes a recidivist and goes back to a life of crime.
And when we're dealing with juveniles, almost all of them -- if not all -- will one day be released. And that requires, in my judgment, that we do more than talk about more jails, although we do have to provide more custodial space. But I think we also have to focus on literacy training and job training. Would you give me a brief sketch of your views on the subject as to how you handle recidivism, violent crime versus juvenile crime, and the issue of preparing people for return to society?
MR. HOLDER: I think we need to strike a balance. There are people who are hardened, and who are beyond help and who need to be dealt with in the harshest way. We have used the statute that you passed, I think, very effectively, here in Washington, and put people in jail for the rest of their lives where that was appropriate; the people, who by their actions have demonstrated over a number of years, that they simply should not walk the streets.
With regard to juveniles and people who, by their record, have not shown that there is a reason to keep them in jail for that extended a period of time; I think we need to always be mindful of the fact that, while in jail, we need to provide them with educational opportunities. And one of the things I saw as a judge at the D.C. Superior Court; I could probably count on one hand the number of people who were found guilty by a jury, or sentenced by me, who had any college experience. Almost all of the people who came before as a judge and were found guilty of crimes had educational deficits. And I think we have to try to understand that and try to, to the extent that we can, use our correctional facilities, while we have them there, to prepare them for reentry into the --
SEN. SPECTER: Mr. Holder, when you say "to the extent that we can," what's you're evaluation as to facilities available to educate, provide literacy training and job training for juveniles at either the federal or state level of America today?
MR. HOLDER: I don't think we're doing a good job of it. In the experience that I have had here with the local system in Washington, we too frequently are warehousing young kids, young adults --
SEN. SPECTER: So what's the answer?
MR. HOLDER: Well, the answer is that we have to commit ourselves, I think, as a society, to Spending the money in order to come up with programs. Because, as you say, they will -- eventually, the majority of them will eventually be returned to the streets, and we need to, to the extent that we can, prepare them for that re-entry. It involves a commitment on the part -- on our society's part, though -- to devote the resources to doing that.
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