White House: Eric Holder resigning as U.S. Attorney General

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder AP

U.S. Attorney General Eric HolderAP

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

WASHINGTON — Eric Holder, who served as the public face of the Obama administration’s legal fight against terrorism and pushed to make the criminal justice system more even-handed, is resigning after six years on the job. He is the nation’s first black attorney general.

The White House said that President Barack Obama planned to announce Holder’s departure later Thursday. The White House said Holder plans to remain at the Justice Department until his successor is in place.

The 63-year-old former judge and prosecutor took office in early 2009 as the U.S. government grappled with the worst financial crisis in decades and with divisive questions on the handling of captured terrorism suspects, issues that helped shape his six-year tenure as the country’s top law enforcement official. He is the fourth-longest serving attorney general in U.S. history.

In his first few years on the job, Holder endured a succession of firestorms over, among other things, an ultimately-abandoned plan to try terrorism suspects in New York City, a botched gun-running probe along the Southwest border that prompted Republican calls for his resignation, and a perceived failure to hold banks accountable for the economic meltdown.

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But he stayed on after President Barack Obama won re-election, turning in his final stretch to issues that he said were personally important to him.

A longtime ally to the LGBT community, Holder has advanced federal recognition and legal benefits for same-sex couples; he has publicly stated that the Department of Justice would urge the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down same-sex marriage bans when the issue comes before the court, and has advised state attorneys general that they are not obligated to defend laws in their states banning same-sex marriage if the laws discriminate in a way forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.

In June, Holder said the Boy Scouts’ ongoing ban on gay adults “perpetuates worst kind of stereotypes.”

Most recently, Holder appointed Stuart Delery to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the department’s No. 3 job. Delery is the highest ranking openly gay official to ever serve in the department.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reaction: Statement by Lambda Legal

“Eric Holder established his place in history as a leader in the pursuit of civil rights and justice for people in many communities in our country, including LGBT people and people living with HIV.

“Under his leadership, the Department of Justice did something especially remarkable and powerful: it switched sides and joined the fight for the freedom to marry, moving the U.S. government from the wrong to the right side of history. Instead of defending the mean-spirited and harmful Defense of Marriage Act, he helped to bring it down.

“Since then, the Department of Justice has followed through in bringing about wide federal recognition of marriages entered by same-sex couples. He stood firmly in defense of the Constitution and justice; he spoke eloquently about equality, and he led forcefully. We thank Attorney General Holder for his courage and his service to our country.”

– Jon W. Davidson, Legal Director and Eden/Rushing Chair

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