Attorney General Eric Holder maintained Tuesday that he has a “vast amount” of discretion in how the Justice Department prosecutes federal law.
Holder’s remarks, during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, came in response to GOP accusations that he is flouting the law with his department’s positions on marijuana legalization, criminal sentencing and a contentious provision of the president’s signature healthcare law.
Leading the questioning was House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who asked Holder whether he believed there were any limits to the administration’s prosecutorial discretion.
“There is a vast amount of discretion that a president has — and, more specifically, that an attorney general has,” Holder responded. “But that discretion has to be used in an appropriate way so that your acting consistent with the aims of the statute but at the same time making sure that you are acting in a way that is consistent with our values, consistent with the Constitution and protecting the American people.”
Holder said the Justice Department must defend federal laws on the books unless it concludes that “there is no basis to defend the statute.”
He cited, for example, the administration’s decision no longer to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibited same-sex couples from receiving certain federal benefits. That position, Holder noted, was upheld by the Supreme Court, which later struck down main provisions of the statute.