It what may be his last season of commencement speeches as Attorney General, Eric Holder is speaking on issues of poverty, civil rights, a complicated justice system and more at law school graduations around the country.
Holder — who friends say has indicated he will step down after Barack Obama’s term is up, and who would lose his job anyway should Obama lose re-election to the Republican nominee — also used a college campus to give his historic speech outlining the legal test and rationale for drone killings of Americans living abroad.
The attorney general spoke at the University of Michigan Law School senior day ceremony on Sunday, encouraging graduates to forget troubling job prospects and recall the reason they decided to become lawyers in the first place.
“What you have been given is a rare chance,” Holder said. “Know this: Times of difficulty, of novel questions and new tests, are the most exciting, and consequential, times to be a lawyer… Now, graduates, it’s your turn.”
Holder, a Columbia Law School graduate, talked about the “systemic threats” to society, including terrorism, threats to the environment and children increasingly exposed to crime and violence. In addition, Holder pointed to the system within which he works: The threat of “a justice system whose promise of fairness is too often compromised by the large number of people who cannot afford or access adequate representation” is ever-present for the graduates, he said.
That said, he remarked that one quarter of the 2012 Michigan graduates are headed to public interest positions, including serving in government and non-profit organizations.
“I am confident that you will meet your responsibilities, exceed your expectations, and help to transform our nation – and this world – for the better,” he said.
In March, Holder addressed Northwestern University School of Law students, offering the most thorough explanation of the administration’s view on drone killings to date. Holder unfurled the three-part legal test for such a targeted killing, saying “the American people can be, and deserve to be, assured that actions taken in their defense are consistent with their values and their laws.” The issue came to a head five months earlier when a U.S. citizen, al Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, was killed in a targeted drone attack in Yemen.
Holder and the administration have taken heat for the policy.
In the speech, Holder said the tactic squares with the values embedded in the Constitution. “In this hour of danger, we simply cannot afford to wait until deadly plans are carried out – and we will not,” he said.