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Remarks at an Installation Ceremony for Eric H. Holder, Jr., as Attorney General

March 27, 2009

I am proud to be here today for the installation of my friend Eric Holder as the 82d Attorney General of the United States.

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. 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 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.

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]

Now, I can't vouch for Eric's skills on the basketball court, 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 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 versus Board of Education, at a time when Washington, DC, 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.

Note: The President spoke at 10:23 a.m. in the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University. In his remarks, he referred to Steven Knapp, president, George Washington University; District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Robert I. Richter; and Miriam Holder, mother, and William Holder, brother, of Attorney General Holder. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Attorney General Holder.

Barack Obama, Remarks at an Installation Ceremony for Eric H. Holder, Jr., as Attorney General Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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