The path of a trailblazer always holds resistance. To pioneer meaningful change, one must be prepared to defend themself against the inevitable opposing force. One man who has come to know this all too well lately is U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
A longtime champion for civil rights, our attorney general has achieved many victories for justice throughout his tenure. After years of lax enforcement of civil rights during the Bush administration, Holder reinvigorated the work of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, stating in 2009 that the division was "back open for business." When the Arizona state legislature introduced a discriminatory immigration law in 2010 which would have led to increased racial profiling by law enforcement, Holder filed suit against the state and won, arguing the new law "inconsistent with the federal Constitution."
In 2011, Holder announced that the U.S. Department of Justice would no longer defend cases involving the Defense of Marriage Act, finding its prohibition of marriage equality to be unconstitutional. And in 2012, when federal investigators found that officials in Meridian, Mississippi were systematically incarcerating African-American children, often for minor infractions, Holder's Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Meridian officials, as well as a consent decree with the city to prevent and address racial discrimination in student discipline.
In the all-important arena of voting rights, Holder has proven himself to be a defender of fair democracy. His Department of Justice blocked restrictive photo ID laws in Texas and South Carolina, finding that they would have a racially disparate impact. DOJ also refused to clear Texas' redistricting plan and initial early voting cuts in Florida, concluding that both would reduce the voting power of people of color. "Too many recent actions have the potential to reverse the progress that defines us -- and has made this nation exceptional, as well as an example for all the world," Holder said in his 2011 speech on voting rights at Austin's Lyndon B. Johnson Library. "We must be true to the arc of America's history, which compels us to be more inclusive with regard to the franchise."
His latest case is to defend the Voting Rights Act against a challenge brought by Shelby County, Alabama, when the small town of Calera attempted to redraw city council districts -- dividing the African-American part of the city in half and eliminating the city's sole African-American councilman. Shelby County asserted that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discriminatory voting practices to get federal preclearance before changing voting procedures, was unconstitutional. Although Attorney General Holder won his case in federal district court, the appeal went all the way to the Supreme Court, and a decision is expected any day now.
Now, in a recent show of political gamesmanship, the attorney general is under fire by certain members of Congress. How this situation plays out going forward will speak volumes to Holder's ability to weather the storm, and continue on what has been a commendable record of enforcing the nation's civil rights laws.
Attorney General Holder represents what is possible when keen legal acumen and a strong moral compass come together -- a combination that we unfortunately do not see enough of here in Washington. It seems like this has been lost on some Americans in the face of recent events, along with the fact that Attorney General Holder has been and continues to be a hero for the oppressed, disadvantaged and disenfranchised among us. With civil rights under constant attack at the local, state and national levels, we need Attorney General Holder to continue his work now, more than ever.