The US Attorney General is a powerful man. He is head of the US Department of Justice, and both the chief law enforcement officer and chief lawyer of the United States government.
Nominated by the President of the United States after being confirmed by the Senate, he serves at the pleasure of the president. Like the president, he is subject to impeachment by the House of Representatives and trial in the Senate for any “treason, bribery, or high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The Attorney General prosecutes suits in the Supreme Court, and gives advice and opinion on questions of law for the president or heads of departments.
That is what he is supposed to do. What he is not supposed to do is to interpret laws as he sees fit.
Current U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, according to critics, is an arrogant man who has been interpreting laws as he sees fit.
Some of that renowned arrogance surfaced last Tuesday. When Holder testified before the House Judiciary Committee, House Republicans took issue with his Department’s disregard of criminal sentencing laws, specifically surrounding the legalization of marijuana.
Holder said the president and attorney general both have “a vast amount” of discretion in prosecuting laws, as can be heard in the video below.
Then Holder said, “… discretion has to be used in an appropriate way so that you’re acting consistent with the aims of the statute but at the same time making sure that you are acting in a way that is consistent with our values, consistent with the Constitution and protecting the American people.”
Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va, obviously didn’t like Holder’s statement, saying “selective non-enforcement” is tantamount to ignoring the law. “The Justice Department’s decision not to enforce the Controlled Substances Act in states whose laws violate federal law is not a valid exercise of prosecutorial discretion, but a formal department-wide policy of selective non-enforcement of an Act of Congress.”
The disagreement with Holder stems from his “Smart on Crime” initiative. That program has altered charging policies involving mandatory minimum sentences for certain nonviolent, low-level drug crimes.
Holder believes it is “his discretion” to do so. Holder explained it to the committee by saying, “This commonsense change will ensure that the toughest penalties are reserved for the most dangerous or violent drug traffickers.”
But is it his choice to do so?
Goodlatte said Holder’s changes put federal prosecutors at odds with the law. “The attorney general’s directive, along with contradicting an act of Congress, puts his own front-line prosecutors in the unenviable position of either defying their boss or violating their oath of candor to the court,” he said.
Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, a member of the committee, likes Holder’s changes. Conyers said drug offenses account for half of inmates in federal prisons.
Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot created the tensest moments in the hearing, when he accused both the attorney general and the Obama administration of illegally delaying the Obamacare employer mandate. Chabot said the executive branch had no authority to delay the mandate.
Responding to Chabot, Holder said, “The president has the duty, obviously, to follow the law; it would depend on the statute and statutory interpretation of the law.”
Holder was not happy that these topics were being discussed publicly.
So much for the “most transparent administration in history.”