Earlier this week, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), issued what the New York Times characterized as a “broad attack” on President-elect Obama’s Attorney General Designate Eric Holder. Specter argued that Holder’s role in several pardons at the end of the Clinton Administration call into question his “character.” The AP explained what may be the real motives behind that attack, writing, “Holder is the liberal face of nominees to come as Obama remakes the federal judiciary, and possibly the Supreme Court.”
Still, critics of Holder are publicly couching their often vaguely defined objections to his nomination in terms of Clinton-era pardon and clemency decisions. The LA Times, for example, reports today that Roger Adams, the Justice Department’s pardon attorney from 1997-2008, is suggesting that Holder’s support for granting clemency to several Puerto Rican nationalists was inappropriate:
“I remember this well, because it was such a big deal to consider clemency for a group of people convicted of such heinous crimes,” said Adams, the agency’s top pardon lawyer from 1997 until 2008. He said he told Holder of his “strong opposition to any clemency in several internal memos and a draft report recommending denial” and in at least one face-to-face meeting. But each time Holder wasn’t satisfied, Adams said.
Holder’s support for granting clemency was backed by former President Jimmy Carter and several religious groups because the length of the sentences were viewed as excessive. At the time of their release, the nationalists had already served 19 years in prison. Additionally, in 1999, Adams defended the clemency process in that case before Congress.
But Adams isn’t the best character witness against Holder. Earlier this year, the Justice Department’s Inspector General found that Adams allowed his racial prejudices to influence his decision in a recent pardon case:
[The Inspector General found that] Adams acted improperly in describing a drug convict applying for a pardon as “about as honest as you could expect for a Nigerian.” “Unfortunately, that’s not very honest,” Adams allegedly told a co-worker, according to the inspector general’s December 2007 report. [...]
“We believe that Adams’ comments – and his use of nationality in the decision-making process – were inappropriate,” the report concluded. “We were extremely troubled by Adams’ belief that an applicant’s ‘ethnic background’ was something that should be an ‘important consideration’ in a pardon decision.”
For his racist statements, Adams was transferred out of his position early last year. Given Adams’s history of racism with regard to clemency decisions, his criticisms of Holder should not be accepted uncritically.
Today, former Republican officials expressed their strong support for the Holder nomination. In a series of letters released by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Judge Louis Freeh, a former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, former Attorney General William Barr, and others, endorsed Holder.