Former United States Attorney General Eric Holder stopped by the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law on Thursday, taking questions from Indiana’s current and future attorneys and offering his perspective on some of the issues facing the nation.
Holder offered a few prepared remarks during the question-and-answer session, taking aim at the current state of immigration in America and expressing concerns about the Trump administration’s plans for immigration reform. Drawing on the fact that most American citizens – except those who are descended from indigenous peoples – come from a line of European immigrants, Holder told the crowd during the CLE program that the country is at its best when it welcomes people from diverse backgrounds.
More homogenous nations such as Japan and Russia are seeing population declines, Holder said, but the United States grows and remains vital when it welcomes in people from diverse backgrounds.
“We get the best of the world,” he said.
The 82nd attorney general also criticized the partisan politics that have created longstanding gridlock in Congress. Calling America a “noisy nation,” Holder encouraged political discourse, yet urged for more compromises between the right and the left, especially on controversial issues such as immigration reform. He pointed to former Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar as an example of a lawmaker willing to listen to opinions on both sides of the aisle and make decisions not on party lines, but in the best interest of American citizens.
After his prepared remarks, Holder opened his presentation up to questions from the audience, which filled both the Wynne Courtroom and an overflow room at the downtown Indianapolis law school. Here’s a look at some of the topics he discussed during the event:
Revelations that current Attorney General Jeff Sessions may have had contact with the Russian ambassador during the presidential campaign
After jokingly trying to deflect the question about Sessions’ possible contact with the Russians to an easier question about his favorite subject in law school, Holder admitted that it was difficult to see President Trump’s attorney general facing such backlash because he and Sessions have been longtime friends and colleagues. Holder said he is no stranger to the controversy that comes with the territory of being attorney general, so he understood the pressure Sessions is likely feeling.
That said, Holder also noted that he thinks the possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign is an issue that needs to be further explored, and praised Sessions for his decision to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation, a decision that was announced late Thursday afternoon.
The election of Tom Perez as the next leader of the Democratic National Committee
Taking a question about Perez’s election from an IU McKinney student, Holder said he supports the new DNC chair but went on to say that he has concerns about the Democratic party moving away from its roots. Rather than only turning out for federal government elections, Holder said the DNC needs to energize its members to vote in elections at all levels, from city council to gubernatorial to presidential elections.
Further, Holder dismissed the idea that there should be an “ideological test” to determine if presidential candidates can be considered true liberals. While Democrats in the past have claimed that presidents such as Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Bill Clinton and even Barack Obama were not progressive enough to be considered the party’s standard-bearers, Holder said from his perspective, each of those presidents offered something to that furthered the progressive movement.
Holder’s decision to visit Ferguson, Missouri, and what attorneys can do to improve the state of race relations in the country
After determining that President Obama’s security detail would make it too difficult for him to blend in on the streets of Ferguson, Holder was sent to the Missouri suburb to find out more about what he called an “over-militarized” police response to the riots that broke out after the deadly shooting of Michael Brown by a police officer. Ultimately, Holder’s Justice Department cleared the officer involved, Darren Wilson, of civil rights violations, but the former AG said history will be the judge of whether his visit and response to the shootings were adequate.
When asked what attorneys can do to serve marginalized populations in the United States, especially racial minorities, Holder encouraged the audience to think of themselves as “public interest attorneys,” regardless of what area of law they practice in. At least once a week, Holder said attorneys should give their time to a law clinic or other similar organization to provide service to underrepresented populations.
Holder’s lecture also covered topics such as reporting relationships between the Justice Department and FBI, voter rights, the “fake news” phenomenon, judicial re-entry programs and the potential whereabouts of Christopher Steele, the British intelligence official who authored the now-infamous “dossier” allegedly linking President Trump to Russia.
At the conclusion of the program, Rick Hite, former chief of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department and current executive director of the Indiana Civil Rights Commission, presented Holder with an award honoring his efforts for civil rights throughout his career. The former attorney general urged the audience, particularly the law students, to similarly find an area of law they are passionate about and to channel that passion into work that makes a difference.
“You will have a great foundation and a great education that you will receive, and you will be superbly trained, and with that superb training comes a great deal of responsibility,” Holder told the law students in the room. “It’s not enough for you to simply come to this great school and receive this great education and then not figure out a way that you can contribute to making America better.”