Holder renews civil rights commitment

Eric HolderAttorney General Eric Holder said Thursday he is committed to a civil rights division in the tradition of the Department of Justice during the civil rights movement.

Holder made his remarks at Morehouse College, where he participated in a ceremony to honor his sister-in-law, Vivian Malone Jones, the first black graduate of the University of Alabama.

Flanked by civil rights icons Andrew Young and the Rev. Joseph Lowery, Holder said he and President Barack Obama are “bound and determined” to reshape the federal judiciary and make civil rights a priority.

“We want to have a division that goes back to the great divisions of the past,” Holder said. “What’s happened to the division over the past few years … has to be reversed. I think we’ll have, in not too short a period of time, a civil rights division that is consistent with its long and glorious history.”

Holder said he has requested substantial resources for the civil rights division in the 2010 budget, to bring more cases, hire more people and broaden the scope of the office.

“It’s not necessarily a change in direction, but a change in emphasis,” Holder said, adding that the renewed focus would also be turned toward the federal bench.

“Elections have consequences,” Holder said. “It would be our expectation that the judges who President Obama places on the federal bench will be people who share his values, share his beliefs, who will conduct themselves with the American people who voted for the kind of change that he stood for.”

Holder said he would be looking to “tie the judiciary to what I saw from some very courageous judges in the South during the civil rights movement,” whose efforts – along with those made by people like his sister-in-law – transformed the nation for the better.

Jones, who died in 2005, faced down segregationist Gov. George Wallace on her first day of class at the University of Alabama. In 1996, Wallace apologized to Jones for his role in the 1963 incident, which was a watershed moment in the civil rights movement. Jones later became the director of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.