AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Attorney General Eric Holder is set to announce his resignation. NPR has learned he's leaving after more than five years as the nation's first African-American attorney general. NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson broke this story just a few minutes ago on Morning Edition, and she's back to tell us more. Hey there, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.
CORNISH: So what have you learned about how this came to happen and why Eric Holder is leaving now.
JOHNSON: Sure. Eric Holder had never intended to stay a full two terms. He's talked about that for a long time. That said, Audie, he's still one of President Obama's longest serving cabinet members and if he stays through December, as appears to be his intention since he's going to wait until the Senate confirms his successor, he'll still be the third longest serving Attorney General in the U.S. history, which is no small feat.
CORNISH: Now, the Justice Department has been at or near the center of lots of news controversies, and many have considered him a political lightening rod, no?
JOHNSON: For sure, he's been a target of GOP leaders in the Senate and the House for years now, over his treatment of some national security cases, the handling of the gun trafficking scandal, known as "Fast and Furious", and some hot-button social issues like enforcement of marijuana laws. But Audie, he also leaves a relatively substantial legacy in terms of civil rights and sentencing reform and gay rights too. For starters he sued Texas and North Carolina over what he perceives to be restrictive voting rights laws that hurt minorities disproportionally. He refused to defend a federal law that defined marriages between one man and one woman, which paved the way for a Supreme Court ruling in the Windsor case that gave federal benefits to a lot of gay and lesbian Americans who are married, and eventually, he hopes, could lead down the road to a federal rights - constitutional right for gay marriage. And Audie, in recent weeks and months, he's been talking a lot about the need for sentencing reform - the need to reduce sentences for non-violent drug offenders in particular. That's an effort he intends to carry through for some time.
CORNISH: What are some of the on-going controversies that he's going to leave behind to the next Attorney General?
JOHNSON: Sure, so many of those focus on national security issues. They're not at the front of mind right now, Audie, but the Justice Department's role in blessing the use of weaponized drones against American citizens overseas has been a major issue in terms of legal debates and whether those folks overseas get due process before the American government decides to kill them is a relatively major issue and legacy he leaves as well. And of course, Audie, he very much had wanted along with the President, to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. That still has not happened.
CORNISH: Finally, Carrie, what do we know about when Eric Holder will leave, what he'll do next.
JOHNSON: Sure, so he intends to leave after the Senate confirms his successor, which may be next year or later this year depending on how quickly the president nominates and the Senate confirms. I'm told that it would not be surprising for him to return to private law practice at the firm Covington and Burling. He also wants to work on civil rights issues and issues involving law enforcement and their treatment of minority communities.
CORNISH: That's NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson with the news about Attorney General Eric Holder about to announce his resignation. Carrie, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: You're welcome.
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