Looking Back On Eric Holder's Time As Attorney General Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that he will be resigning. Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson speaks with NPR's Arun Rath about Holder's legacy and who will likely replace him.

Looking Back On Eric Holder's Time As Attorney General

Looking Back On Eric Holder's Time As Attorney General

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Attorney General Eric Holder announced this week that he will be resigning. Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson speaks with NPR's Arun Rath about Holder's legacy and who will likely replace him.

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Eric Holder, the nation's first African-American attorney general, announced this week he'll be resigning as soon as a successor is confirmed. Even before Holder made his announcement, political pundits were furiously debating his legacy. Supporters celebrate his record on advancing civil rights and reforms to the criminal justice system. But Holder had an extremely contentious relationship with Republicans in Congress. They voted him in contempt, the first sitting attorney general to be so publicly rebuked by Congress. So who is likely to replace Eric Holder? Joining us now is NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Carrie, you reported that the leading candidate for the job is Solicitor General Don Verrilli. Who else might be on the list?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Yes, Don Verrilli is the nation's top representative to the Supreme Court. He famously helped defend the Affordable Care Act - the Obamacare law - before the Supreme Court. And his judgment is widely regarded within the White House and the Justice Department.

That said, Arun, there are several other top candidates out there, including Kathryn Ruemmler. She's the former White House counsel, the top lawyer to President Obama, who left just a few months ago. She has a background in national security, white-collar prosecution and worked in the Justice Department for many years. Also, Tom Perez, he's the current Labor Secretary. But earlier in this administration he ran the Civil Rights Division at Justice, which is such an important part of Eric Holder and Barack Obama's legacy.

And finally, Arun, there are several U.S. attorneys, several top prosecutors in federal districts across the country, who are putting their names forward. It's not clear how reliable those names are though.

RATH: Looking back on Holder's tenure, what would you say are his signature accomplishments?

JOHNSON: I think he would say his signature accomplishments involve civil rights issues - writ broadly. So first of all, lawsuits against Texas and North Carolina over what he viewed as their efforts to restrict minority and elderly voting rights. Second, criminal justice reform - his campaign, known as "Smart On Crime," to send people out of prison early if they were inside for lengthy prison terms for nonviolent offenses and to reduce the number people who are put in prison in the first place for things that he believes don't merit that kind of punishment.

And finally, but not least, Arun, there's his refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, that part of a federal law that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. The Supreme Court, of course, ultimately adopted that view as well. And Holder hopes it will pave the way for a federal constitutional right to gay marriage down the line.

RATH: Holder's Justice Department has been criticized for not issuing a single indictment against a bank executive involved in the 2008 financial collapse. How do you think that part of his legacy will be viewed?

JOHNSON: On the left and on the right of the political spectrum, there has been criticism of the relative disengagement of this Justice Department on white-collar crime issues. That said, some senior Justice Department officials yesterday indicated to me that they believe some individual indictments may occur before the end of the year, before Eric Holder leaves office. We're just going to have to wait and see whether any such indictments are able to lift the cloud over that part of his legacy.

RATH: Do you think Holder's really rocky relationship with Congress is going to carry over to his successor, or does the attorney general-Congress relationship just have to get better from here?

JOHNSON: OK, so Arun, it's hard to imagine things getting worse. Of course, the House of Representatives voted Holder in contempt a couple of years ago, the first time that had ever happened. That said, it's hard to imagine things getting much better either because we're in a contentious midterm election cycle this year and right around the corner we're talking about 2016. Republicans had been campaigning rather successfully, and raising money rather successfully, for beating up Eric Holder. And it's hard to imagine they're going to want to avoid that with his successor.

RATH: NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: You're welcome.

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