For Holder, a Second - and Symbolic - Swearing In
By Carrie Johnson
Rolling out the pomp and circumstance before a crowd stocked with members of the city's legal elite, President Obama this morning welcomed "my friend, Eric Holder," as the 82nd attorney general of the United States.
Holder, a former D.C. Superior Court judge and a top prosecutor in the District, has been on the job as the nation's chief law enforcement officer since early February. But this morning, in front of an audience that included the widow of Robert F. Kennedy, for whom the majestic Justice Department headquarters is named, Holder took a second oath of office. The event was weighted with symbolism about the new administration's approach to national security and civil liberties.
In brief remarks, Obama said that Holder would serve "as the guardian of that revered document," the U.S. Constitution, and that he would keep in mind that enforcing the law is a "fundamentally human process."
"In the end Eric comes to this job with only one agenda: to do what is right under the law," the president said. "Our laws are only as compassionate as the people who enforce them."
"He's thoroughly prepared to tackle the law enforcement challenges of this new century," and protect the nation against terrorist attacks, Obama added.
Underscoring the department's top priority, national security, FBI Special Agent Earl D. Camp led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance. Camp was wounded in a March 2008 attack in Pakistan, deputy attorney general David W. Ogden told the audience, and will receive an award from the FBI director for his valor later today.
Holder and Obama developed a close bond after meeting at a Washington dinner party more than four years ago. The new attorney general had served as a co-chairman of the Obama presidential campaign, helped select Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be vice president, and routinely appears by the president's side at social events.
"Like me, he married up," Obama told the audience at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium, in a nod to Holder's wife, prominent D.C. obstetrician Sharon Malone.
For his part, Holder reached out to many in the crowd, which included 11 judges from the federal courthouse, Republican predecessors at the Justice Department including John Ashcroft, Paul McNulty and George Terwilliger, and scores of veterans from the Clinton administration who greeted him with rousing applause and foot stamping.
Holder used his short speech to attempt to inspire career prosecutors demoralized by politicized hiring scandals during the Bush years. He also indirectly responded to criticism from former vice president Richard Cheney, who twice has claimed that Obama is making the nation less safe by vowing to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and end harsh detainee interrogation methods that critics call torture.
"The true test of our nation's greatness is whether we uphold our principles not when it is easy, but when it is hard," Holder said. "There is no contradiction between our ideals and our commitment to enforce the law....We will be fair and we will be just in all that we do."
Web Politics Editor
March 27, 2009; 11:50 AM ET
Categories: DEPT. OF JURISPRUDENCE
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