the WHITE HOUSEPresident Barack Obama

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The White House

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

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release                              March 27, 2009
George Washington University
Washington, D.C.
10:23 A.M.
THE PRESIDENT:  I am proud to be here today for the installation of my friend, Eric Holder, as the 82nd Attorney General of the United States.  (Applause.)
I want to recognize our Deputy Attorney General, David Ogden, for his outstanding service to this department, both in this tour of duty, and in his last.  Where did David go?  He was here just a second ago.  (Laughter.)  Here he is.  Come on out here.  That's David.  (Applause.)  I'd like to thank Special Agent Earl Camp for starting things off with the Pledge of Allegiance and for his tremendous sacrifice for this nation.  Thanks also to members of Congress who have joined us, to President Steven Knapp for hosting us, and to Judge Robert Richter for administering the oath.  Thank you very much.
I also want to welcome Eric's entire family, who is here today.  Like me, Eric married up -- (laughter and applause) -- and we are grateful to his extraordinary wife, Dr. Sharon Malone, and their children -- Brooke, Maya and Eric -- for sharing him with all of us.  So, Sharon, thank you.  Thank you, guys.  (Applause.)
There are few more important jobs in our nation's government than that of Attorney General.  As President, I swore an oath to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.  And as Eric himself has said, it is the Attorney General who serves as "the guardian of that revered document" that is the basis of our laws and the driving force of our democracy.
And that's what's always distinguished this nation -- that we are bound together not by a shared bloodline or allegiance to any one leader or faith or creed, but by an adherence to a set of ideals.  That's the core notion of our founding -- that ours is a "government of laws, and not men."  It is the motto inscribed on the library of my law school alma mater:  "Not under man but under God and law."
But today, as we install the man charged with upholding our laws, we are reminded that the work of translating law into justice -- of ensuring that those words put to paper more than two centuries ago mean something for all of our people -- that is a fundamentally human process.
It is what so many of you -- the men and women of our Justice Department -- do every single day:  keeping us safe from terrorist attacks; bringing to justice those who would do us harm; rooting out corruption and fighting violent crime; protecting our markets from manipulation and our environment from pollution; and upholding our most fundamental civil rights.
That's why I sought to appoint an Attorney General who understands that justice isn't about some abstract legal theory, or footnote in a casebook -- it's about how our laws affect the daily realities of people's lives:  whether they can make a living and care for their families; whether they feel safe in their own homes and welcome in their own nation. 
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. 
That has always been the core mission of this department.  It is the story told by the murals that adorn the walls of your headquarters, installed years ago to illustrate the power of law to improve our lives.
Now I haven't yet seen it yet myself, but I'm told that one of these murals, painted back in the 1930s, depicts black children and white children attending school together, sitting side by side in the same classroom.  This was years before Brown vs. Board of Education, at a time when Washington, D.C., was still a segregated city.
It is, to this day, a moving reminder that sometimes, law lags behind justice -- and it is up to us to bridge that distance.  That's been the work of Eric Holder's life and so many of yours.  I thank you for answering the call to serve this nation, and I look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead to meet the urgent challenges of our time.
So thank you, God bless you.  Keep up the great work, and let's install our outstanding Attorney General.  (Applause.)
(The oath of office is administered.) 
ATTORNEY GENERAL HOLDER:  Thank you, Mr. President, for your remarks and for the trust that you have placed in me by asking me to lead this great department.  Let me just depart here and say that he's never going to see my New York game.  (Laughter.)  He's got 10 years on me, he works out, I'm the coach of the team in which he will be playing, and nothing more than that.  (Laughter.)  But had I been 10 years younger -- (laughter.)
I also want to recognize -- there are a number of special people here today, but there's one person I want to recognize:  the wife of a person who I consider the greatest Attorney General; the building is named for that person -- Ethel Kennedy.  (Applause.)
I want to thank my wife, Sharon, and my three wonderful children, whose love and support sustain me.  I want to say hello to my mother, who is recovering from a recent illness but who I know is watching this event.  Mom, you work hard and you get well.
And I want to thank the many career professionals from the department who I see here today.  Over my career, you have been my mentors, my colleagues and my friends.  It is your dedication to duty and love of country that gives the Department of Justice its heart and its soul, and ensures that it lives up to the ideals enshrined in our Constitution that are our special duty to protect.
Ours is a nation of laws guided by principles that reflect the essential goodness of the American people.  Many of these values -- adherence to the rule of law, equality before the law, and the applicability of due process -- are as well known as they are timeless.  And yet these principles can only be true -- truly the animating forces of our legal system if we, both individually and collectively, make it so.
That is why, Mr. President, I pledge to you, to my fellow Department of Justice employees, and to the American people as a whole, that I will lead a Department of Justice that is firmly rooted in and solely guided by these sacred principles.  In all that we do, in all that requires us to make the different judgments that must withstand the scrutiny of the ages, these values will serve as our eternal touchstone.
It will not always be easy to solely let these principles serve as the enduring markers that guide our path.  This will be particularly true when we face unforeseen and even existential challenges.  And it won't always be popular as we apply them to unfamiliar dangers.  But it will always be right.
There are some who say that we can no longer afford to use these principles as our foundation.  There are some who say that the challenges we face are too grave, that the stakes are too high.  And there are some who say that these principles weaken us as we meet the challenges of this modern age.
But here is what I say:  The power of this nation is at its zenith when the actions of our government are firmly grounded on the bedrock of the rule of law and the values that make our nation unique.
My friends, the true test of our nation's greatness is whether we uphold our most cherished principles not when it is easy, but when it is hard.  Our nation, our department must meet this test this time.  We have done so in the past; we will do so again.
You, the women and men of the Department of Justice, know that there is no contradiction between our ideals and our efforts to enforce the law.  Our commitment to the rule of law, to equal protection, and to due process are not an obstacle to be overcome, but the foundation upon which you and generations of our predecessors have built the department's long and storied history.
This nation, this department has faced novel and difficult challenges before, and we have overcome them.  And let no one doubt that we will overcome the challenges we face today and those that we will confront tomorrow.
And let no one doubt that we shall do so, guided by the principles that gave birth to our great nation and that are enshrined not only on the parchment pages of the Constitution but also in the living spirit of the American ideal and in the halls of the department that I now call home for a final time.
Here is my commitment to you as the new Attorney General:  We at the Department of Justice will protect our people from those abroad and from those within our borders who seek to do us harm.  We will protect our nation's markets from fraud and from those who prey on the vulnerable.  We will protect the civil rights of our fellow citizens -- all of our fellow citizens -- in the workplace, in the housing market, in the educational institutions, and in the voting booth, as well as in their day-to-day lives.  We will protect our environment from depredation and our public institutions from corruption.  We will be fair and we will be just in all of the things that we do.
And we will zealously protect our Constitution -- indeed, the very rule of law itself -- from those who would force upon us the false choice between security and liberty, between safety and justice.
Now, during the eight weeks, I've had the opportunity to meet with a number of you and to thank you for your dedicated work for our department and for our nation, and for all that you all are so fortunately to serve.  In the coming months I hope to meet many more of you and to talk about and refine the methods that we will use in our common cause.  Please know that I consider it to be a special privilege, the highest honor of my life and of my career, to return to the Department of Justice that I love, for the last time, and to be given the responsibility to lead it.  Please also know that I am very proud to serve with you.
This is our time.  This is our time.  When American generations look back now on the work that we will do, let us strive to ensure that they will say that we kept the faith and that we made a superb Justice Department even greater. 
I thank you very much, my friends, and I look forward to working with all of you.  (Applause.)
10:40 A.M. EDT