2017 Wiley A. Branton Award

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.

Eric Holder 1Eric H. Holder served as the 82nd Attorney General for the United States from 2009 to 2015. During his tenure as Attorney General, Mr. Holder led the Department of Justice to prioritize critical civil rights issues. He recognized the central role in our democracy of the right to vote and led the Department in repeated initiatives to remove barriers to the ballot and challenge legislation to suppress voter participation. While he was Attorney General, the Department vigorously defended the Affordable Care Act from repeated challenges, successfully ensuring that millions of Americans have access to health care. He defended the rights of LGBT persons, first by determining that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional and should not be defended in the Supreme Court, and later in the Department’s briefs supporting a constitutional right for same-sex marriage.

Mr. Holder made criminal justice system reform a key priority as Attorney General. He established the Office of Access to Justice to, among other things, increase the federal role in ensuring that indigent criminal defendants had meaningful access to counsel. His Smart on Crime initiative required federal prosecutors and law enforcement to calibrate their actions to reduce racial disparities in sentencing, effectively use finite resources and limiting excessively punitive sentences for low-level and non-violent offenses. He also made reform of the nation’s law enforcement a priority at a time when communities across the country were calling for change. He personally engaged with community members, rank and file police officers, faith leaders, and political leadership to address the serious questions of trust and accountability.

Mr. Holder’s public service long predates his term as Attorney General. He was the first African American to serve as Deputy Attorney General for the United States, appointed by Bill Clinton in 1997. He was the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1993 to 1997. As a United States Attorney, he implemented a groundbreaking community prosecution program that ensured lawyers in his office had meaningful relationships of trust and confidence with the neighborhoods they served. He was an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Superior Court from 1988 to 1993, and started his career as a prosecutor in the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice.

In addition to his public service, Mr. Holder has had a successful private practice at Covington & Burling. He led the firm’s representation of a major multi-national agricultural company in related civil, criminal, and investigative matters; acted as counsel to a special investigative committee of the board of directors of a Fortune 50 technology company; successfully tried a complex discrimination lawsuit on behalf of a leading financial services company; and represented several life sciences companies in litigation and investigations. While at the firm, he has maintained an active pro bono practice focused on civil rights and anti-poverty issues.

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