In March, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law was proud to welcome the Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr. for the 2021 Pope & John Lecture Series on Professionalism. The hourlong conversation with Interim Dean James Speta covered voter suppression, current conversations on modifying the filibuster law, and Judge Merrick Garland’s appointment as the new attorney general under the Biden administration.
Speta opened up the conversation by addressing the political events of the last several months, particularly the accusations of election fraud by the former administration and what it means for elections going forward. “The system responded pretty well,” said Holder. “Numerous lawsuits were filed around the country—I thought that they were dealt with pretty expeditiously. There seemed to be a confluence of opinion that the claims that were brought were essentially meritless. I think the system was tested, but it responded fairly well.”
The former attorney general added that he hopes these lawsuits don’t become a trend. “I hope that what we saw in November of last year…we don’t ever see something like that again. My hope would be that we’ll have, as we’ve [almost always] had, a hard-fought election, a resolution of that election on or about election day, and then an acceptance of the verdict of the people.”
Holder also spoke about newly introduced legislation restricting citizens’ ability to vote after the high turnout by Democratic voters in Georgia and Pennsylvania. “We are seeing this new wave of voter suppression, these proposals that are being put out in Georgia, most notoriously, but also in good government states like Iowa—shortening the number of days that people can vote, restricting the number of drop boxes…”
On the topic of voter rights, Holder also discussed one of the biggest political battles this year, the House Resolution 1 bill, also known has the “For the People Act”. The H.R.1 bill would strengthen voter’s rights, requiring all states to adhere to early voting, automatic voting registration, and no-excuse mail-in voting. “My hope is that it will become law,” Holder said. “The question at the end of the day is whether or not Democrats will take the necessary step and change the filibuster rule.”
As to newly appointed attorney general Judge Merrick Garland, who was sworn into office this month, Holder spoke from experience. “I think a big thing will be a return to norms,” he said. “You’ll certainly see Merrick Garland try to take the department back to that traditional place where cases are decided on facts, the law, without any involvement by the White House.”
Speta closed the conversation by asking what law schools can do differently to advance the rule of law and racial and social justice. “Connecting to real-world concerns that people have,” Holder said. “Expanding critical opportunities in 2nd and 3rd year, to give law students the ability and sense of what it means to be a lawyer, [and] understand the obligations that lawyers have to make a positive change.”