No Longer Just

Eric Holder
Eric Holder / AP
July 20, 2014

In the 1966 film A Man For All Seasons, which depicts Sir Thomas More’s steadfast disapproval of King Henry VIII’s marital infidelities, More stirringly defends the rule of law. Rebutting his son-in-law, who says he would hypothetically "cut down every law in England" to find the devil, More asks, "And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?"

More argues that abandoning equal enforcement of the law imperils all citizens. Unfortunately for today’s United States, this is exactly what John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky say the Department of Justice is doing under Attorney General Eric Holder. To this enterprise, Fund brings tireless reporting, and Spakovsky brings his own experience in the Justice Department (as counsel to the assistant attorney for civil rights) and contacts therein.

Together, they have assembled a brief yet persuasive argument that, as one former career lawyer put it, "Holder is the worst person to hold the position of attorney general since the disgraced John Mitchell, who went to jail as a result of the Watergate scandal." The authors guide us through Holder’s unique judicial malpractice: his Department’s long Supreme Court losing streak; his convenient memory lapses, lack of knowledge, and outright lies about what he knew and when he knew it; and his becoming the first-ever attorney general to be held in contempt by the House of Representatives.

But the authors do not limit themselves merely to what Holder has done or failed to do. We also see rampant abuse in particular divisions of the Justice Department: the strategic non-enforcement on behalf of environmentalists known as "sue and settle" practiced by the Environment and Natural Resources Division; discrimination in the Civil Rights Division, especially concerning voting; and the Pigford Scam, which entitled anyone who had ever given a thought to farming to a government payout.

Focusing on both Holder and the DOJ helpfully reminds us of scandals, some fresh and some old, and their oft-forgotten victims. Some stories, especially former Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Tony Perez’s unconscionable, trans-divisional dropping of one DOJ lawsuit against St. Paul, Minnesota, so that it would not pursue a case against the DOJ that could have killed his precious, dubious theory of "disparate impact," deserve far more attention than they have yet received.

On many occasions, moreover, the Justice Department has abused its status as "the largest law enforcement agency in the world with investigators and agents, lawyers, and prison officials all combined in one government department" to transform life into a living hell for objects of its ire.

These targets have ranged in size from Gibson Guitar, raided SWAT-style and then prosecuted by the Justice Department on the ultimately dubious charge of using illegal wood, to the Sacketts, an Idaho family that the EPA decided lived on government "wetlands," with the family incurring daily fines for not moving (fortunately, the Supreme Court saved them).


In one moving passage, the authors detail how department employees viciously insulted Spakovsky himself, accusing a child of parents who bitterly opposed and fled the Nazi and Soviet regimes of fascist sympathies.

It all adds up to an agency in dire need of reform. But the authors’ call to action is somewhat lacking. They suggest mostly administrative tweaks, and approvingly quote former attorney general Edwin Meese’s counsel that nothing can compare to "making sure good people are elected who will appoint good people to offices within the executive branch."

This is all well and good, but by their conclusion the authors seem almost to have forgotten that they’ve indicted not just Attorney General Eric Holder, who will leave with President Obama in January 2017, but also the entire Department of Justice, including career employees who will outlast almost any administration.

If Holder alone were responsible for Justice’s problems, righting the agency would be far easier than if its general character had become leftist and lawless. In More’s terms, it is not a case of cutting down the laws to pursue the devil. Instead, if the DOJ now suspends and refashions laws for its own ends, then what we have is the devil himself cutting down laws that stand in his way.

Published under: Book reviews