California Retains Holder in Anticipation of New Administration

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U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder / North Charleston

January 4, 2017; New York Times

As if to reinforce just how important local politics will become in protecting and advancing certain social justice–related causes, the California legislature yesterday announced that it would employ Eric H. Holder Jr., attorney general under President Obama, to take up any legal fights the state has with the Trump White House and Republican-controlled Congress.

California voters registered more than four million votes more for Hillary Clinton than for Trump, and that divide could be considered representative of the deep ideological split between the state and incoming federal administration.

“Having the former attorney general of the United States brings us a lot of firepower in order to prepare to safeguard the values of the people of California,” said Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the California State Senate, in an interview. “This means we are very, very serious.”

De León suggested that challenges will go both ways, as the state will likely challenge Washington, D.C. on its policies in areas like the environment, immigration, and criminal justice and will defend itself against them. He added that Trump’s cabinet choices made it clear that his campaign rhetoric would be reflected in the administration in relatively extreme ways: “He was surrounding himself with people who are a very clear and present danger to the economic prosperity of California.”

This follows Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointment of Representative Xavier Becerra as attorney general last month. Becerra is also positioned to do battle with the federal government if necessary, particularly on immigration measures and environmental issues.

Holder, President Obama’s attorney general for six years, is now in private practice. But the law firm at which he is a partner, Covington & Burling, specializes in representing states and companies against the federal government.

“I am honored,” said Holder in a statement, “that the legislature chose Covington to serve as its legal adviser as it considers how to respond to potential changes in federal law that could impact California’s residents and policy priorities. […] I am confident that our expertise across a wide array of federal legal and regulatory issues will be a great resource to the legislature.”—Ruth McCambridge