Attorney General Eric Holder is undoubtedly a fine person, although I was and remain plenty critical of him. His refusal, for the sake of political expediency, to deal with and set right the clemency process in a timely fashion ruined lives. His goofy rejection of empirical data on risk assessments for criminal sentencing purposes is inexplicable unless viewed through a partisan lens. These are just two of the reasons why I am not sad to see Mr. Holder go. But the question remains, who should replace him?
I think I know who should replace Holder, but I don’t know the name. That person is buried deep in the bowels of the DOJ. He or she knows where the bodies are buried, he or she has been at DOJ forever, he or she is apolitical, and he or she is universally respected for wisdom, fairness, experience and guts. Importantly, he or she does not want to be President Obama’s friend. Rather, he or she is reluctantly willing to undertake the awesome responsibility of becoming the chief lawyer for the United States of America.
Take John “Jack” C. Keeney as an example. On September 24, 2010, at the age of 88, his “swearing-out ceremony” produced the largest-known gathering of attorneys general and deputy attorneys general in Department history. Keeney began his remarkable career in 1951 as an attorney in the Internal Security unit of the Criminal Division, prosecuting conspiracy cases under the Alien Registration Act of 1940. In 1960, he joined the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section, ultimately becoming Deputy Chief and developing a close relationship with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. In 1969, he became Fraud Section Chief, where he emphasized white-collar criminal prosecutions. And in 1973, he was appointed Deputy Assistant Attorney General, a position he held until his retirement. In that position, he was responsible for overseeing countless prosecutions of organized crime, racketeering and public corruption.
The appointment of someone like Jack Keeney would cause the pundits, Republican partisans and Democratic partisans to swoon. That would be great for America, assuming the public interest is something we still care about.