President Barack Obama paid tribute to Attorney General Eric Holder Thursday, as he announced the resignation of the country's top law enforcement official.
Standing alongside Holder at a White House press conference, the president confirmed the "bittersweet" news that America's first black attorney general's would step down from his position as soon as a successor was confirmed by the Senate.
"Bobby Kennedy once said, 'on this generation of Americans falls the full burden of proving to the world that we really mean it when we say all men are created free and equal before the law,'" said Obama. "As one of the longest-serving attorney generals in American history, Eric Holder has borne that burden."
Obama credited Holder—who has a portrait of Kennedy on his office wall—as a civil rights defender who spent his career atop the Justice Department reforming the criminal justice code, defending voting rights and supporting the legal rights of same-sex marriage advocates.
The president also pushed back against criticism that the Justice Department had not done enough in the aftermath of the 2008 recession. "He's helped safeguard our markets from manipulation and consumers from financial fraud. Since 2009, the Justice Department has brought more than 60 cases against financial institutions and won some of the largest settlements in history for practices related to the financial crisis, recovering $85 billion, much of it returned to ordinary Americans who were badly hurt."
But Obama said that the AG's "proudest achievement" might be his "reinvigorating and restoring the core mission" of the DoJ's Civil Rights Division. "He has been relentless against attacks on the Voting Rights Act because no citizen, including our servicemembers, should have to jump through hoops to exercise their most fundamental right," said Obama. "He's challenged discriminatory state immigration laws that not only risked harassment of citizens and legal immigrants, but actually made it harder for law enforcement to do its job."
Holder said he came to the end of six years leading the Justice Department "with very mixed emotions," occasionally fighting back tears as he spoke. "I'm proud of what the men and women of the Justice Department have accomplished," he added, but said he was "very sad" that he would serve alongside them no longer.
Addressing Obama, he said: "I hope that I have done honor to the faith that you have placed in me, Mr. President, and the legacy of all those who have served before me."