by Leanna Baumer
April 8, 2014
Since it’s been almost a year since the last appearance of Attorney General Eric Holder before the House Judiciary Committee, Members had no shortage of topics to probe today in an often contentious Committee hearing that lasted close to four hours.
Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) opened the hearing with remarks focused on the “extraordinary level of Executive overreach by the Obama Administration”. Members followed up with particular grievances, including IRS targeting of conservative groups and individuals, Administration disregard for statutory requirements in the Affordable Care Act, Justice Department failure to answer countless Congressional requests for information and documents, dismissal of state marriage laws, and the end to enforcement of the federal marijuana ban.
Importantly for those concerned with the Administration’s ongoing disregard for state marriage laws, Congressman Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) drew attention to troubling remarks made by the Attorney General in late February of this year. In addressing a gathering of state attorneys general, Attorney General Holder had voiced his skepticism of state policies that recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman, declaring that “I believe we must be suspicious of legal classifications based solely on sexual orientation.”
Remarking on the very unusual step of advising state attorneys generals to disregard constitutional measures enacted by wide-margins of voters, Congressman Chabot asked why the top law enforcement official in the country would urge his state counterparts to abandon their legal obligations (a posture some conscientious state attorneys general such as Colorado’s Attorney General John Suthers have condemned publically). General Holder attempted to deny his use of the particular phrase “suspicious” and offered the qualified response that usually a decision to defend a law “can’t be based on politics or policy.” While appealing words, in practice, the Justice Department’s posture has been one that elevates rank partisanship over fair defense of the law.
In a personal anecdote, Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) later brought up the view that bound he and a fellow lawyer together in friendship despite political differences — the profound “hope that the law will trump politics.” He went on to describe the powerful role the rule of law plays in America as “the greatest equalizing force in our country” and “the greatest unifying force in our country.”
Unfortunately, for Members of the Judiciary Committee and more significantly the American public, this Administration’s politicization of the rule of law on many fronts means that the public’s views on marriage — even their ability to simply express those views as participants in civil society — rests on increasingly shaky ground. The Attorney General’s condescension and refusal to answer most Member questions left little of Congressman Gowdy’s “hope” and more mere “politics.”