Eric Holder

Eric Holder Biography.com

Legal Professional(1951–)
Serving under President Barack Obama, Eric Holder was the first African-American attorney general of the United States.

Synopsis

Eric Holder was born on January 21, 1951 in New York City. He attended Columbia Law School. Holder was an associate judge of the D.C. Superior Court under President Reagan; U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., then deputy attorney general under Clinton; and for Obama, Holder was senior legal advisor to his presidential campaign, later becoming the first African-American Attorney General in history. He announced his forthcoming resignation in September of 2014, succeeded in 2015 by Loretta Lynch.

Early Education and Career

Judge, lawyer, political advisor. Born Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. on January 2, 1951, to parents Eric and Miriam Holder in New York City. His mother was a telephone operator and his father was a real estate broker. His parents both held strong ties to Barbados; previously his father had emigrated from Saint Joseph, and his mother's family emigrated from Saint Philip. The eldest of two brothers, Holder grew up in the predominantly black neighborhood of East Elmhurst, Queens.

Holder attended a public school in his neighborhood until the fourth grade, when he was selected to participate in a program for intellectually gifted children. The school consisted of predominantly white students, which Holder says forced him to keep his "foot in both worlds." This only became more apparent when it came time to attend high school. While his friends at home chose to attend public schools in Queens, Holder's white schoolmates were taking an exam to enter the city's most elite institutions. Holder got into the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, an hour-and-a-half commute from his home, which pulled him even farther away from his neighborhood friends and community.

Holder says he concentrated mainly on his studies in high school, and felt overwhelmed by the rigorous academic demands placed on him at Stuyvesant. But the young man stayed well rounded; he was selected as the captain of the basketball team, and in 1969 he earned his high school diploma, as well as a Regents Scholarship.

That same year, Holder entered college at Columbia University. He played freshman basketball, attended shows at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, spent Saturdays mentoring local kids, and became active in civil rights. He received his bachelor's degree in American history from Columbia University in 1973. In 1974, he began attending Columbia Law School while also clerking for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Department of Justice's Criminal Division.

In 1976, Holder earned his law degree, and the Department of Justice gave him a job as part of the attorney general's honors program. He was assigned to the newly formed Public Integrity Section, which investigated and prosecuted official corruption on the local, state and federal levels.

Appointments Under Reagan, Clinton and Bush

In 1988, Holder was nominated by former President Ronald Reagan to become an associate judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. During this time he presided over hundreds of civil and criminal trials. Holder was then nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve as the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C. in 1993. He was the first African American to hold the position. During his four-year term, he created a domestic violence unit, a community prosecution project and a program for restricting gun laws.

In 1997, Holder made history yet again when President Clinton nominated him to be the deputy attorney general. Holder was quickly confirmed several months later by a unanimous vote in the Senate. He was the first African American elected to the position as well as the highest-ranking black person in law enforcement in the history of the United States at that time.

As deputy attorney general, Holder developed and issued the "Holder Memorandum," which spelled out the guidelines for the criminal prosecution of corporations. He also developed rules for the regulation of health care, and assembled a task force that determined how to investigate criminal investigations of high-ranking federal employees.

At the president's request, Holder created the organization, Lawyers for One America. The group was designed to bring greater diversity to the law profession and increase pro bono work among the nation's lawyers. Holder also briefly served under President George W. Bush as Acting Attorney General, during the pending confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft.

After serving in this position for four years, Holder joined the private sector to work at the law firm Covington and Burling LLC, in 2001. He represented clients such as the National Football League during its investigation of quarterback Michael Vick, and the negotiation of an agreement with the Justice Department for Chiquita Brands International.

In addition to his normal workload, Holder serves on a number of philanthropic boards, including the Columbia University board, the Save the Children Foundation, and Concerned Black Men, a group that seeks to help troubled youth in D.C. He has also been nationally recognized for his work in law; he was featured in the 2007 edition of The Best Lawyers in America, and in 2008 he was named by The National Law Journal as one of "The Most 50 Influential Minority Lawyers in America" as well as by Legal Times for being one of the "Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Past 30 Years."

Role in Obama Administration

In late 2007, Holder joined Senator Barack Obama's presidential campaign as a senior legal advisor, and later served as one of three members on Obama's vice-presidential selection committee. Holder was appointed and confirmed as the 82nd U.S. attorney general in 2009, making him the first African-American attorney general in history.

With a tenure marked by civil rights work and calls to speak more openly about racial discrimination in the U.S., Holder also faced major controversy over the case of missing documents in relation to Operation Fast and Furious, which focused on tracking the sales of arms among Mexican drug cartels. 

In August of 2014, Holder visited Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting death of an unarmed African-American male by police officer Darren Wilson, with differing accounts of the incident. With waves of protests and both a police and national guard presence, Holder launched a Justice Department inquiry into the killing, ultimately corroborating Wilson's account of what happened ruling and declaring that he had not committed any civil rights violations. However, after reviewing Ferguson's overall policing practices, the Justice Department found rampant constitutional violations that included unwarranted use of force and arrests of a population under duress, with racist slurs and images found in official governmental emails as well. 

On September 25, 2014, the Justice Dept. announced that Holder would be resigning from his position, with an exit from his post having been in the works. Loretta Lynch succeeded Holder as attorney general in spring of the following year.

Holder is married to obstetrician Sharon Malone. The couple has three children: Maya, Brooke and Eric. They reside in Washington, D.C.

Fact Check

We strive for accuracy and fairness. If you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!