Former attorney general talks impeachment, gerrymandering

Media Credit: Jack Borowiak | Staff Photographer

Eric Holder, former President Barack Obama's first attorney general, said the need to reverse gerrymandering nationwide is "vitally important" to American democracy.

A former attorney general discussed voting rights and the Trump administration’s scandals at Lisner Auditorium Wednesday.

Eric Holder, who served as the nation’s top lawyer from 2009 to 2015 and was the first black person to hold the post, discussed gerrymandering, voting rights and impeachment in a conversation moderated by Mother Jones reporter Ari Berman. The event, titled “Protecting Our Vote,” was co-sponsored by liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, the ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s and progressive advocacy group Tides Foundation.

Holder said President Donald Trump’s likening of the ongoing impeachment inquiry to a lynching on Tuesday was “reprehensible” and “inconsistent with what you would expect a decent person,” let alone the president, to say.

“If you want to know who this guy is, you look at that,” Holder said. “That’s reflective of who this man is, and why he’s got to get his ass beaten in 2020.”

He added that Attorney General William Barr is “unfit” for the post he currently holds in light of his involvement in efforts to solicit information about Trump’s political rivals from foreign governments, a central part of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry into Trump.

“Flying around the world, flying to I guess somehow substantiate these crazy conspiracy theories is totally inconsistent with what I think the attorney general should be focused on,” he said.

Holder said there was no question that Trump deserves to be impeached, adding that “any novice prosecutor” would move forward if they received a case with the same facts that House Democrats find themselves with.

Looking back at the 2008 election, during which Holder served as then-candidate Barack Obama’s senior legal advisor, Holder said Obama’s victory was a “marker of progress for our country,” but added that Obama’s election did not resolve issues like racism, sexism and LGBTQ discrimination.

“What it meant was we had made progress – we had in place people who brought different life experiences to the job,” he said. “But I was never under the illusion that we were in a post-racial society.”

Holder said he was surprised by the negativity directed at Obama at the time and was dismayed that the Obama administration had to fight a “real fight” against racism directed at the former president.

“I thought that, at a minimum, we would have some period of good feeling because he won a pretty smashing victory,” Holder said. “But the good feelings generated by that Inauguration Day dissipated relatively quickly and people retreated into their corners.”

Holder said Democrats largely ignored issues like gerrymandering after the 2008 election and instead focused on Obama’s reelection. At the same time, Republicans mobilized voters to sweep the 2010 Congressional midterm elections, in addition to gaining control of several state legislatures across the country, he said.

Holder said undoing gerrymandering nationwide is “vitally important to the health of our democracy.” Two years ago, Holder co-founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a nonprofit that raises awareness about gerrymandering and challenges gerrymandered districts in court.

“Politicians are allowed to do things that are inconsistent with the desires of the people they supposedly serve, but they don’t suffer any electoral consequences because of gerrymandering,” he said.

Holder called on young people to engage in the political process and exercise their right to vote to have their voices heard in the political system.

“This generation, you’re now the largest voting bloc in this country,” he said. “There’s more of you than any other bloc, and you have enormous amounts of political power. You need to be exercising this, it’s your future that’s at stake.”

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