By Adrianna Pitrelli
ANDERSON, Ind. — Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder wore many hats during his six years in the position and Tuesday at Anderson University he talked about his experiences — both good and bad.
And his talk and the chance to spend the day with him enthralled sophomore Zachary Van Duyn, who hopes to practice law in the future.
Van Duyn was among a group of students who helped host President Barack Obama’s first attorney at Anderson. He spoke with Holder about civil asset forfeiture, the practice of seizing proceeds of a crime without a conviction, and after he was finished he was even more excited about becoming a lawyer.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder speaks to more than 300 people at Anderson University Tuesday. He served as attorney general for six years. Photo by Adrianna Pitrelli, TheStatehouseFile.com
“I felt more compelled after talking to him to pursue a career he so highly spoke of and after hearing what he did as attorney general and in his private practice,” Van Duyn said. “It was such a privilege to hear from him.
Holder spent the day at Anderson University first talking to students who are national security studies majors, then addressing a crowd of nearly 300.
The crowd of people, ages 17 to 87, enjoyed consistent laughter and informative opinions on current events as they sat in the York Performance Hall at Anderson University.
Holder was the 82nd attorney general, serving under former President Obama from 2009-2015, the third longest serving attorney general in history and the first African-American to hold the position.
“The thing I miss the most about the department, my plane, I don’t have an airplane anymore,” he said jokingly to a crowd of community members and students. “When I came here I had to line up like everyone else and TSA pre-check is nice but not as nice as having your own plane.”
All jokes aside, Holder touched on heavier topics from police shootings to the way attorney generals are treated.
Because Holder was the first African-American to serve as attorney general, he said he brought a perspective to the table that his predecessors didn’t have.
“Diversity is a valuable thing and I could bring a certain life experience to the table that made the conversation better,” he said. “Surrounding myself with a diverse staff and with FBI made us a better overall U.S. Department of Justice.”
As attorney general, Holder visited sites around the country after events such as the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri or the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 students dead.
“My worst day as attorney general is the day I went to Sandy Hook Elementary and I will never forget where I went in the classrooms where the little angels were shot,” he said. “On the wall, each kid had a sign that said what they wanted to accomplish that year, and lower on the wall it was juxtaposed with blood.”
To this day, the experience nearly brings Holder to tears.
When he wasn’t around the country talking to Americans as attorney general following a tragedy, he focused on political action.
Today, Holder has taken up the issue of gerrymandering, which is the drawing of legislative boundary lines to favor one party over another. Holder said he believes the system is broken.
“I think we have a system where politicians are picking their voters instead of voters picking their representatives,” he said. “By gerrymandering, parties are drawing lines to make sure their incumbents are protected.”
Of the 435 seats in the House of Representatives, Holder said, 400 are non-competitive, no matter how well-funded or good a candidate is because the way the lines are drawn.
“In 2020, we redraw the lines and I hope we draw in a way that allows competition,” he said. “Let’s make Republicans and Democrats fight over the vision for the nation.”
As the former attorney general, Holder was taken aback by the reports of how President Donald Trump addressed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. There were reports that Trump berated his attorney general after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.
“I think it is very problematic,” Holder said. “I don’t agree with Sessions on a lot of things but he has a tough job to do.”
Then, more jokes followed, leaving the crowd laughing when he was asked if he ever had any disagreements with Obama, his longtime friend.
“He told me I did a great job,” Holder said. “But he then told there are three or four things he disagrees with me about but he still hasn’t told me. As soon as I find out, I’ll let you know and I’m sure I’m right and he’s wrong — kidding, Mr. President.”
Adrianna Pitrelli is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.