Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Justice Department’s support for the federal law banning the recognition of gay marriage Thursday night, reiterating that the DOJ is obligated to enforce all federal laws regardless of the current administration’s opinions on the issue.
“You have to understand that the Solicitor General’s office of the Department of Justice has a responsibility to defend those statutes that the Congress has passed if there is an argument that can be made to defend those statutes,” Holder said during a question and answer session after delivering a speech at the University of the District of Columbia Law School. “Whether we agree with them or not, the Justice Department by tradition is bound to do so. …Anybody who knows me knows that this is not a statute that I agree with, but there are times as lawyers when obligations that we have and the traditions of the Justice Department to defend an act with which we do not agree.”
Holder delivered the Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Lecture Thursday night. The annual lecture is named for the prominent civil rights lawyer, a longtime board member of the NAACP who lobbied Congress to pass many of the country’s civil rights laws.
During his speech, Holder touched on the volunteer work that the approximately 300 law students are required to complete each year.
“Your responsibility to serve others has proven to be not only an effective means of providing your community with much-needed legal assistance, but also an effective means of learning the law,” Holder said. “I believe we have arrived at a watershed moment. The choices we now make will reverberate for decades to come. But some important decisions must be made. After all, we face a crisis in our justice system – an environment where, despite our founding promise of justice for all, we still must strive to reach that vaunted goal.”
Holder also said he would sign a petition the law school was circulating to have President Barack Obama speak at the law school. The Attorney General said he would deliver the petition to Obama himself.
During the question and answer session, Holder discussed a number of legal issues including changing the so-called public safety exception to Miranda warnings for criminal suspects; D.C. voting rights; and the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance decision, Citizens United.
On Miranda Rights and the public safety exception
With regard to the question of Miranda, I think a lot of the concern comes from something I talked about on the Sunday shows a few weeks ago about what we were considering in the administration. Let me be very clear: the proposals that were are thinking about, just thinking about at this point, have nothing to do with Miranda itself. Miranda is a constitutional [right]. There is nothing we could do by statute, by regulation. What we are talking about is the exception.
So in the limited sphere of just dealing with terrorism — only terrorism — one of the thoughts is that we need guidance from Congress on the public safety exception to define for us what is it our agents can do, what they can’t do.
On Voting Rights in the District of Columbia
As a D.C. resident… this is not a political question, this is a moral one. If residents of this city pay taxes in the amount that they do, serve in our armed forces the way that they do, are good Americans in the way that we are, we simply deserve the vote. Politicians should figure what the manner is in which we make this happen. It’s way past the time right now when every D.C. resident should have representation.
On Citizens United Decision
Well, first, I think will all due respect, the Supreme Court got it wrong. When we look at the possibilities of what this decision unleashed I’m worried what the midterm elections will look like, what the presidential election will look like in 2012. The court reversed decades of decisions that went the other way.
Wade [Henderson is] a person, I’m a person, and now suddenly a corporation’s a person. The logic of the decision escapes me. The impact, the negative impact, the potential negative impact of the decision, scares me. So we’ll see how it plays out, but we in the administration are crafting a series of things that we’re going to be presenting to Congress that will, we hope, limit the negative impact of the decision.