Eric Holder’s legacy
As Eric Holder spent some of his last days in office meeting with Barbados’ Governor General and Prime Minister recently, a key thing has become clear about America’s first black Attorney General.
It is that the tenure of the Barbadian-American as the fourth longest serving head of the United States Justice Department means different things to different people.
To Americans who cherish freedom and respect for civil and human rights, the son of Eric and Miriam Holder is a champion, their “darling,” if you will.
“When the history of his tenure is written, Eric Holder will ultimately be recognised as one of the finest attorneys general this country has ever known,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, President of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People Legal Defence Fund.
US Congressman John Lewis, a Democrat of Georgia and a former aide of the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr, agreed.
“His resignation is a great loss for any American seeking justice in our society,” said Lewis, a revered icon of the civil rights movement.
And as Ambassador Andy Young, the first black person to serve as the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations and a former Mayor of Atlanta saw Holder, the man with Bajan roots is an excellent judicial candidate for the US Supreme Court.
But Darrell Issa, chairman of the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee, paints a different picture of the AG.
“Eric Holder is the most divisive US Attorney General in history,” said Issa whose dislike of Holder apparently knows little, if any bounds. For it was Issa, a Republican conservative of California, who sought to get Congress to hold the AG in contempt.
Interestingly, Bill Moyers, the host of a weekly national public affairs television programme offered a concise assessment of Holder.
“He will leave behind a mixed scorecard,” Moyers said. “A for civil rights, C for civil liberties and F for failing to prosecute the banking executives who brought about the financial calamity of 2008.”
It’s the last grade of Holder’s track record – his dealings with big business, the global banks on Wall Street – that has triggered the strongest criticism of the man whose appointment as AG, according to Trymaine Lee, an MSNBC.Com analyst.
For from William Black, a law professor of the University of Missouri-Kansas City and the New York Times to some sections of America’s progressive movement, the reaction is the same: Holder’s Justice Department dropped the ball by failing to prosecute a single chief executive of some of the world’s largest commercial financial institutions for their roles in bringing about the great recession whose impact is still being felt around the world, including Barbados and its Caribbean neighbours.
“If you want to create the next crisis and make it vastly worst leave the people in charge who led the frauds in the senior ranks at the banks in charge of those banks,” argued Prof. Black, a strong advocate of punishing top bank executives for their role in the financial debacle.
After all, the banks packaged toxic mortgage deals which they sold for handsome profits but which caused millions of homeowners in the US to lose their properties and the global financial system to go into a tailspin from which it hasn’t fully recovered.
But none of the executives went to jail for their alleged misdeeds.
In fairness, though, the banks didn’t get off scotch free. Instead of hauling the CEOs and others in the executive suites before federal courts, Holder pushed prosecutors to get the banks to agree to pay stiff fines for their crippling actions.
For instance, J.P. Morgan Chase agreed to pay US$13 billion and Bank of America had to fork over US$16 billion to the feds.
Then there was the US$9 billion fine imposed on BNP Paribas for breaking economic sanction laws. Added to that executives at AIG and Lehman Brothers didn’t face criminal charges despite the fact that their firms contributed to the crisis.
To his credit, Holder went out of his way to explain that his biggest concern was the negative impact of criminal charges would have imposed on the national and world economies.
“I am concerned,” Holder told the US Senate Judiciary Committee last year, “that the size of some of these institutions become so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if we do prosecute – if we do bring a criminal charge – it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy.”
Does that mean the banks and their executives were considered too big to go to jail? Absolutely not, Holder says.
In a recent speech, he complained that corporate responsibility “remains so diffuse and top executives so insulated that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution’s culture than a result of wilful actions of any single individual.”
Getting them to pay up for their deeds is excellent as some of the money can be used to provide relief to victims. Sending a few executives to jail would only satisfy some of Holder’s critics.