Kia Franklin

What a Holder Appointment Means for Civil Justice


On TortDeform we've talked extensively about a Pro-Civil Justice Presidential Platform, but access to justice for every American requires leadership and hard work from more than just the President. "America's lawyer" and "top cop", the Attorney General, has perhaps the most important role in advancing policies that preserve Americans' cherished legal rights and strengthen their access to effective, fair civil courts.

He still has to undergo the formal vetting process, but Eric Holder looks to be Obama's AG pick. So, how will Holder hold up when it comes to civil justice? Here are three quick things worth considering:

First, Holder is an influential Board Member for the American Constitution Society. ACS, while not a political organization, represents many of the progressive values that guide the access to justice movement. In fact, ACS’s Access to Justice Group “addresses barriers to access to our civil justice system, including… efforts to strip courts of jurisdiction, raise procedural hurdles, remove classes of cases from federal court, insulate wrongdoers from suit, limit remedies and deprive legal aid services of resources. It focuses attention on ways to ensure that our justice system is truly available to all.” (emph. added)

Second, something I pulled up from a cursory Google Search indicates that as Deputy AG, Holder was part of an initiative to bring more diversity into the legal profession and ensure that “the profession provides full service to communities of color so that those communities can enjoy equal access to our system of justice.” This may indicate a willingness on his part to engage the civil justice community on access to justice issues like Civil Gideon and binding mandatory arbitration, among others.

Third, probably the most helpful analysis I’ve found so far comes from Glenn Greenwald at Salon, who gives a cautious, preliminary nod of approval to the Holder pick. Greenwald weighs the known blemishes on Holder’s record (the Marc Rich pardon issue being the most frequently cited) against the shining points (independence from Obama, willingness to take strong positions in favor of constitutional rights, even if in stark contrast to the President). Greenwald concludes based on this and other information that Holder will likely be an effective protector of the American people’s constitutional rights.

We must pay close attention here. As former AGs John Ashcroft and Albert Gonzales taught us so well, the AG has a critical role in protecting--or subverting--our cherished constitutional rights and protections. In the coming weeks as we learn more about his positions on various issues I’ll do my best to keep you updated.

In the mean time for your reflection, here are some Senators talking about the importance of the Attorney General, with my emphasis added (Hat tip to TalkLeft for this information):

Vice President-elect Joe Biden:

This Cabinet position is the single most unique position of any Cabinet office. For it's the only one where the nominee or the Cabinet officer has an equally strong and stronger, quite frankly, responsibility to the American people as he does to the person who nominates him... [T]he attorney general of the United States is both the president's lawyer and the people's lawyer… [T]he question is whether the attorney general is willing to vigorously enforce all the laws in the Constitution, even though he might have philosophical disagreements; and then second, whether he possessed the standing and temperament that will permit the vast majority of the American people to believe that you can and will protect and enforce their individual rights.

Sen. Patrick Leahy:

Remember, the attorney general is not the president's counsel; he has a counsel for that. The attorney general is there for every one of us, Democrats, Republicans, rich, poor, white, black, no matter who you are....[T]his is somebody who represents all of us, not there just to represent administration policy. You should have evenhanded law enforcement, protection of our basic constitutional rights, including the freedom of speech, the right to privacy, a woman's right to choose, freedom from government oppression, and equal protection of the laws.

...Can you think of any position in our government that can affect us in more ways -- everybody in this room, everybody outside, all 280 million Americans -- anything that affects us more than that of attorney general? No position in the Cabinet is more vulnerable to politicization by one who puts ideology and politics above the law.

Go to the original post to read remarks by Senators Maria Cantwell, Diane Feinstein, Herbert Kohl, Chuck Schumer and others. And as I said before, more information will definitely emerge in the coming weeks and I’ll try to flag it as I come across it.

What’s being said on other Blogs?
ACS blog notes Holder’s ties to the American Constitution Society.
This Open Left blogger seems pretty excited about Holder, and the comments section has a lively debate.
At Firedoglake, they aren't exactly dancing in the streets about Holder, particularly due to the Rich scandal and Holder's stance on criminal justice issues.

Kia Franklin: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:57 AM, Nov 20, 2008 in Attorneys General | Civil Justice | Decision 2008
Permalink | Email to Friend


And lest we forget, Holder's membership in the ACS alone would be enough for Monica Goodling to have thrown Holder's resume in the trash. :)

Posted by: Justinian Lane | November 20, 2008 10:31 AM