Eric Holder and the LGBT Community

By Joe Solmonese

Originally published on Advocate.com January 27 2009 1:00 AM ET

Although several
of President Obama's cabinet nominees have been
confirmed by voice vote or nearly unanimously, some senators
are delaying and politicizing Eric Holder’s
nomination as the next Attorney General. Politicizing
the confirmation of one of the most qualified individuals
ever to be nominated in this post, should remind the LGBT
and broader civil rights communities that our
opponents remain eager to block any move toward
restoring the federal government’s role in protecting
civil rights.

While the LGBT
community has a stake in seeing fair-minded leaders in
every cabinet agency, the Attorney General (AG), is among
the most critical positions. The AG is
America’s lawyer, appointed to serve all
people, not just the president or his administration. As the
chief enforcer of civil rights, the AG must have a
comprehensive vision of the government’s
authority to preserve equality for everyone.

As the Department
of Justice’s (DOJ) leader, the AG determines the
department’s litigation priorities. Under the Bush
Administration, the DOJ reduced the
department’s focus on prosecuting cases of racial,
ethnic and sex discrimination. This dramatic change in
civil rights priorities led to the Justice Department
litigating fewer cases involving hate crimes, voting
rights and employment discrimination.

Logically, one
would expect Eric Holder, as President Obama's nominee, to
sail through the confirmation process. Immensely qualified,
Holder has the support of an impressive array of
constituencies. The civil rights community, led by the
Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, has sent a
letter of support with signatories from across the civil
rights community such as the National Association for
the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of
La Raza and the National Partnership for Women &
Families. Law enforcement, including the International
Association of Chiefs of Police, has urged the Senate
to confirm Holder. And the broader legal community,
from both Democratic and Republican circles, has spoken
of his intellectual rigor, professional judgment, high
ethical standards and outstanding qualifications.

The Human Rights
Campaign supports Eric Holder not only for those obvious
reasons, but for his demonstrated commitment to combating
hate-motivated violence against the LGBT community. In
1999, when he was Deputy Attorney General, Holder
testified before the U.S. House in support of hate crimes
legislation. He understood that the murders of Matthew
Shepard, Billy Jack Gaither and James Byrd were
examples of a dire problem that required a federal
solution, including a federal hate crimes law.

It would stand to
reason that his qualifications, coupled with such deep
and broad support, would have provided Holder a warm
reception in the Senate. Yet, almost as soon as he was
chosen, attacks were launched and not just on his
record, but on his character. We have since learned that
Holder's nomination will be used as a political test run for
opposing President Obama’s legislative
priorities and judicial appointments.

Some Republican
senators are flexing their muscles with Holder, showing
us all what might lie ahead. In fact, the master of
division, the one and only Karl Rove, has even weighed
in the confirmation battle. And just this past
Wednesday, Republican senators forced a week-long delay in
Holder’s confirmation vote by the Senate Judiciary
Committee.

With the Justice
Department struggling to recover from eight years of
mismanagement and the enormous challenges facing our
country, now is not the time to play politics. As a
civil rights community, we must demonstrate that we
will not allow justice to be delayed or denied for one
more moment. Justice knows no party and does not bend to
ideology, but it must be served. The LGBT community
must make its voice heard and support Eric Holder, who
is not only a superb nominee but someone who has stood
with us. Now, it's time for us to stand with him.