Thursday, November 20, 2008

Eric Holder, not so great on guns and ganja

You can probably toss out those fondly held hopes for drug-law reform under the incoming Obama administration. Eric H. Holder, Jr., President-Elect Barack Obama's choice for Attorney General, is undoubtedly a competent nominee with significant Justice Department experience under his belt, but he's an enthusiastic supporter of drug prohibition even when it comes to simple marijuana possession. And if you were bitterly clinging to Obama's professed support for the Second Amendment, let the scales fall from your eyes. The likely AG-to-be is a long-time opponent of the right to bear arms.

Before he became Deputy Attorney General under Janet Reno in 1997, Holder was United States Attorney for the District of Columbia. In that office, he complained to the Washington Post that laws against marijuana in the nation's capital were too lenient.

U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr. said in an interview that he is considering not only prosecuting more marijuana cases but also asking the D.C. Council to enact stiffer penalties for the sale and use of marijuana.

"We have too long taken the view that what we would term to be minor crimes are not important," Holder said, referring to current attitudes toward marijuana use and other offenses such as panhandling.

The Washington Times reported on his charges that D.C.'s repeal of mandatory minimum sentences was "misguided" and his plans to make marijuana distribution a felony. He proposed "setting minimum sentences of 18 months for first-time convicted drug dealers, 36 months for the second time and 72 months for every conviction thereafter."

Holder is just as hostile to firearms possession as he is to the use of marijuana. As Deputy Attorney General, he put forward Clinton administration proposals for imposing draconian restrictions on private individuals who want to sell a gun or two from their personal collections at gun shows and flea markets. "Under our proposal, Brady background checks would be required for all guns that are sold at gun shows, even if the gun is sold by a vendor who is not licensed."

Even after he left government, Holder signed on to former Attorney General Janet Reno's amicus brief (PDF) in the case of D.C. v. Heller, opposing the position that the Supreme Court finally adopted: that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. The brief Holder signed explicitly asserted, "The Second Amendment does not protect firearms possession or use that Is unrelated to participation In a well-regulated militia."

After the Supreme Court rendered its pro-individual-rights decision earlier this year, Holder objected that the ruling "opens the door to more people having more access to guns and putting guns on the streets."

But what about enforcement? Can we at least expect a reprieve from the midnight raids by paramilitary squads that have resulted in injury and death for too many minor offenders, police officers and even innocent bystanders?

Don't count on it. After the violent raid by armored U.S. marshals to seize six-year-old Elian Gonzalez from his relatives and return him to Cuba, Eric Holder was one of the Justice Department officials called on the carpet to explain their actions to the U.S. Senate. Holder defended the raid to Tim Russert, despite his earlier denial that the Justice Department would try to forcefully seize the boy in the dark of night, saying, "We waited 'til five in the morning, just before dawn."

Drug warrior, gun grabber and fan of tear-gas-fueled paramilitary raids to resolve child custody disputes. That's Eric Holder, our new Attorney General.

Is there any upside to Holder's nomination?

Yes, there is, though Holder's positives are in areas that are less likely to directly affect most Americans than his negatives. Holder has, thankfully, criticized the Bush administration's affinity for warrantless wiretapping and for the use of torture against terrorism suspects -- or at least the outsourcing of such abuse to countries that have fewer scruples and legal restrictions than the United States. He told the American Constitution Society (video here):

Our needlessly abusive and unlawful practices in the ‘War on Terror' have diminished our standing in the world community and made us less, rather than more, safe.

He also said:

I never thought I would see the day when our Justice Department would claim that only the most extreme infliction of pain and physical abuse constitutes torture, and that acts that are merely cruel, inhuman or degrading are consistent with United States law and policy.

That will be a welcome change from the attitude prevailing in the current administration, though it doesn't completely offset the new almost-AG's distinct downside.

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Blogger DC said...

Thanks for the insight. This is quite unfortunate, though. Two things that would make America a much more "free" country would be protection of the second amendment and legalization of Marijuana.

David Carlson Politics

November 20, 2008 6:53 PM  

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