Holder proudly wears the bruises of President Obama's first term—and already some of the second. The nation's top law-enforcement official emerged as one of the administration's most polarizing figures over the past four and a half years, the subject of multiple Republican-led congressional inquiries, including one that ended in a historic contempt-of-Congress vote. The New York native is close to Obama—Holder has called himself the president's "wingman"—and is sticking around for a second term. He doesn't plan to let his critics slow him down. "You may not like me," Holder scolded one Republican lawmaker during a recent congressional hearing, "but I am the attorney general."
When Obama named him to helm DOJ, Holder, long a familiar figure in Washington legal circles, became the first African-American to head the department. He is closely tied to some of the first term's most liberal policies, including those dealing with gay rights (the administration stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act on his watch), civil rights (his department sued Arizona over its illegal-immigration law), and trying terrorism suspects in civilian courts. In recent months, Holder has been on the hot seat for the department's aggressive tracking of reporters, including seizing the phone records of Associated Press editors and reporters. But, so far, nothing has earned him more ire from the GOP than the botched gunrunning "Fast and Furious" operation run by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, in which weapons were sold to straw buyers in hopes of tracking Mexican drug cartels. It was that case that spurred the contempt vote (for failure to adequately respond to a subpoena)—the first such sanction ever leveled against a sitting Cabinet member.
Serving as attorney general is the capstone to a long and productive career. Holder, 62, prosecuted corruption for the government for more than a decade; served as a judge for five years (appointed by President Reagan); worked as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia; and was Attorney General Janet Reno's deputy in the Clinton administration. In the private sector, he practiced law at Covington & Burling. Holder received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Columbia University.