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Who's Hanging in Eric Holder's Office?

By Ed O'Keefe

The official portraits of Richard H. Jackson, Robert F. Kennedy, Elliot Richardson and Janet Reno hang in the office suite of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. (Photos by Post, UPI, AP)

Decorating the new office is probably a low priority for most incoming cabinet secretaries, but history dictates at least part of the decorating process for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr..

Speaking last night at West Point’s Rule of Law Conference, Holder explained that by tradition, each new attorney general displays the official portraits of some of his predecessors in his office and adjoining conference room. He told the military academy crowd about two of his choices for the conference room: Robert H. Jackson and Elliot Richardson.

Jackson served as President Franklin D. Roosevelt's third attorney general and was later appointed to the Supreme Court. He "authored perhaps the most important court opinion on presidential power in the last century," according to Holder's prepared remarks.

"Though only a concurring opinion, Jackson’s outline in the Youngstown case of three situations in which presidential powers fluctuate remains the gold standard to this day for defining the extent to which the president can operate consistent with the rule of law. Jackson’s standards are as informative today as they were prescient fifty-seven years ago."

Richardson, who served as Richard M. Nixon's third attorney general, appears in Holder's office because of his resignation amid the Watergate scandal.

His story "is a constant reminder that for the rule of law to mean anything, for it to be more than a hollow refrain bellowed before the microphones but quietly subverted in the muffled corridors of power, it must be upheld by men and women of firm character who are committed to its faithful application," Holder said.

Last month Holder told Justice Department beat reporters that he also selected the portraits of Robert F. Kennedy and Edward H. Levi for the conference room while the portrait of his former boss Janet Reno hangs in his office.

He described Kennedy and his brother, the former president, as "two of my heroes." He identified Levi, who was appointed by President Ford, as "the person who came back to the Department, who came to the Department at a time when it was in crisis and after it had suffered through a crisis and put the department back, I think, in a way that I hope I will be able to do so."

Holder, who served as Reno's deputy during the Clinton administration, called her "a great woman" and "a hero of mine as well."

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 16, 2009; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Administration, Workplace Issues  
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