Policy: Law

Op-Ed: A culture of lawlessness prevails in Eric Holder's Justice Department

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Justice,Eric Holder,Justice Department,Law

Scripture teaches us that the law is good, but only if man uses it lawfully. Sadly, Eric Holder's tenure as President Obama's Attorney General will be remembered for dishonesty and abuse of power. He has transformed the culture of the Justice Department in ways hostile to the rule of law and limited government, and we are all the worse for it.

When we worked as career Department of Justice employees during the administration of President George W. Bush, the law was viewed in the traditional American way - confining rules designed to limit the exercise of power except in clearly defined circumstances, as passed by Congress.

Holder embodies a corrosive alternative view of the role of the law. In his eyes, the law operates as a mere suggestion, a trivial signpost on a journey to a transformative destination. Instead of law confining the federal government, law is something to be manipulated and creatively applied to achieve progressive ends.

This philosophy has been employed repeatedly by Holder's Justice Department in places like St. Paul, Minnesota where preserving an unsupportable race-centric legal theory was more important than protecting the taxpayers being fleeced millions of dollars in federal grants through false certifications by the city.

It has likewise fueled dozens of lawsuits by Holder's Civil Rights Division, ranging from enforcement actions to guarantee that male children may attend public schools dressed in drag, to forcing employers to hire minority employees who failed application tests, to using federal power improperly to block election integrity measures.

Holder's corrosive use of power is not confined to issues of culture and race. His Justice Department also went to court to undermine the legal rights of secured Chrysler bond-holders, ultimately destroying them. Long established rules of commerce suffered in the process.

Twisting inconvenient laws isn't the only abuse of power. Holder's Justice Department flat-out ignores other laws, the Defense of Marriage Act being just one example, that it is charged to enforce, simply because of ideological opposition.

The integrity of American elections has similarly been damaged by the new culture. Despite having millions of ineligible and dead voters polluting state registration rolls before the 2012 election, Holder refused to enforce the Motor Voter law and force states to clean up this nationwide mess. Apparently reasoning that enforcement might hurt Democratic reelection chances, Holder turned a blind eye.

Men who exercise power and twist laws to achieve aims Congress never intended, while simultaneously ignoring other laws they don't like, are destructive of our Constitutional order. The rule of law is a precious yet fragile American institution that is the foundation of our liberty, freedom, and economic prosperity. America has endured very few Attorneys General hostile to this institution, but Holder is one.

Holder has also created a culture of dishonesty. He has repeatedly provided slippery testimony to Congress regarding when he learned about the deadly Fast and Furious gun running scandal. His chief of legislative affairs, Ronald Weich, then wrote a letter to Congress about the scandal that was so dishonest the Department eventually was forced to withdraw it.

Holder's recent testimony about criminal investigations of reporters is on the razor's edge of perjury.

Meanwhile, his subordinate, Assistant Attorney General and Secretary of Labor nominee Thomas Perez, has repeatedly prevaricated under oath, including by concealing from congressional investigators his illegal use of personal email to conduct DOJ business, which Holder condoned by refusing to turn over the emails in response to congressional subpoenas.

The attorney general's assurances that DOJ will conduct a fair and nonpartisan investigation of the exploding IRS scandal rings hollow. While the examples of politicized enforcement decisions during Mr. Holder's tenure are too numerous to catalogue here, one merits mention.

Holder's corrosive culture led to discrimination against Christopher Coates, the former Voting Section Chief at DOJ with whom we both worked. Coates was an experienced, award-winning civil rights lawyer. As outlined in a March Inspector General report, Holder personally met with other senior Justice Department officials for the purpose of removing Coates as the chief of the Section in violation of civil service rules.

Why? Because Holder did not agree with Coates' view that federal anti-discrimination laws protect all Americans and should be enforced in a race-neutral manner. This is a deplorable attitude in the nation's chief law enforcement official, particularly in an increasingly diverse nation.

Holder is the first attorney general ever held in contempt by Congress for his unjustified refusal to turn over thousands of documents in the Fast & Furious investigation. His combination of unpreparedness, dissembling, and arrogant disregard for Congress's oversight function displayed in his latest testimony was simply stunning.

Members of Congress have grown familiar with Holder's pattern of non-responsiveness to legitimate congressional inquiries, and his subordinates have demonstrated an equally dismissive attitude towards Congress. Holder's own expressions of contempt for members of Congress are beneath the dignity of his office and a startling departure from the comportment of prior attorneys general.

The Justice Department is the most powerful component of the federal government. Holder is proving again the old maxim that power is corrupting. An attorney general who respects the power he has been given, instead of abusing it, is long overdue.

Hans A. von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams are both former Justice Department lawyers. This opinion reflects their personal views and not necessarily that of their current employers or clients.

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