Eric Holder, Jr.

Over a history-making career of service to our nation and the cause of social justice, you have embodied Robert F. Kennedy’s admonition delivered in a speech to a University of Cape Town audience in 1966: “The enlargement of liberty for individual human beings must be [our] supreme goal and abiding practice.” This pursuit has, indeed, been your abiding practice, from your activist student days at Columbia, to your service as one of the nation’s most outstanding attorneys general, to your continuing efforts as a private citizen today. After a career in Washington battling corruption as a prosecutor in the public integrity section of the Justice Department, you served as a judge exposed directly to the injustice wreaked by mandatory sentencing laws and also as United States Attorney for the nation’s capital. The moral clarity with which you perceived systemic inequities was preamble to seven years as a different sort of United States Attorney General than the nation had ever seen: hate crimes prosecuted with as much vigor as high-profile terrorism cases; a tough-minded effort to reform our criminal justice system by overhauling sentencing policies and investigating corrupt police departments; and a Justice Department bully pulpit used to rebuff the recurrence of the civic cancer posed by discriminatory voting restrictions. Against forceful opposition, you were a national leader on voting rights, declaring that “no force has proved more powerful—or more integral to the success of the great American experiment—than efforts to expand the franchise.” You also declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and had government lawyers stand down from defending it, helping to pave the way for the landmark Supreme Court decisions that would come, guaranteeing same-sex couples the right to marry. We looked on with great attentiveness and no small amount of pride, as you, an alumnus of Columbia College and the Law School by way of the Bronx and Queens, shouldered with enormous grace the responsibility of the high office you were named to by a fellow Columbian. Unfailingly, you made decisions informed by a manifest awareness of the history of the department you led and of the nation, as well as the sacrifices of earlier generations of brave Americans who contributed to aligning the nation more closely with its highest ideals. You are a public servant of rare principle and uncommon integrity. For your courage, your grit, your wit, and your selfless choice to labor at the center of the public arena where you battled to protect the liberty and security of every American citizen, Columbia is proud to present you with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.