Remarks by the President at the Installation of Attorney General Eric Holder

I sought someone who recognizes the very real threats we face, but has the wisdom, in those hard-to-call cases, to find that fine balance between ensuring our security and preserving our liberty. And most of all, I was looking for someone who believes deeply enough in the American people’s cause to serve as the American people’s lawyer.

And taken together, I think that’s a pretty good description of our new Attorney General. It’s a reflection of how he was raised, and of the choices he’s made throughout his life. Eric’s father came to this country as a boy and served in the Army during the second World War. And even though he couldn’t get served at a lunch counter in the nation he defended, he never stopped believing in its promise. He and Eric’s mother worked hard to seize that promise for their sons and give them every opportunity to succeed.

But Eric was never content to achieve just for himself. Each time he rose, he worked to pull others up with him: mentoring young people in college; working for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund in law school; distinguishing himself as a prosecutor, a judge, and a leader in this department. All along, working tirelessly to right the balance of power so ordinary people could get a fair shake; all along, showing the independence of mind that justice requires — never hesitating to take on members of his own party, including those to whom he owed his job. In fact, several months ago, Eric even had the audacity to comment to a reporter on my basketball skills. (Laughter.) He said, and I quote — (laughter) — here’s what he said — he said, “I’m not sure he’s ready for my New York game.” (Laughter.) We will see about that, Mr. Attorney General. (Laughter and applause.)

Now, I can’t vouch for Eric’s skills on the basketball court — (laughter) — but I can confirm that he is thoroughly prepared to take on the law enforcement challenges of this new century. As a student of history, he also knows history’s lessons about what happens when we let politics and ideology cloud our judgment — and let fear and anger, rather than reason, dictate our policy. These are mistakes he will not repeat. Because in the end, Eric comes to this job with only one agenda: to do what is right under the law.

It’s no easy task. And it is one that falls to every member of this department, because our laws are only as effective, only as compassionate, only as fair as those who enforce them. In the end, our union is only as perfect as we are willing to work for. It endures only to the extent that we are willing to fight for the ideals on which it is based — to do our part, as generations before us, to breathe new life into them with the more enlightened understandings of our time.

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