Holder pursues a federal civil rights case in Ferguson

In many ways, this case is the key to Holder's tenure as attorney general

Topics: Eric Holder, Ferguson, michael brown, Civil Rights, ,

Holder pursues a federal civil rights case in Ferguson FILE - This July 14, 2014 file photo shows Attorney General Eric Holder speaking at the Justice Department in Washington. Holder said Thursday he's concerned about police use of military equipment in Ferguson, Mo.(Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Members of the media in Ferguson, Missouri, should consider renting some condos, because it doesn’t seem like the grand jury convened to hear evidence regarding Michael Brown’s death will come to a decision any time soon. In an interview with local CNN affiliate KMOV, St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch said, “The aspirational time is by mid-October to have everything completed.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean that protesters who have taken to the streets since Aug. 9 will have to wait months for any sort of legal action. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder could also pursue charges in a federal civil rights case. CNN reports:

The most high-profile figure in President Barack Obama’s administration to visit Ferguson, Holder has stressed that the federal government is on the case and listening — both to protesters calling for Wilson’s arrest and for an end to what they describe as a heavy-handed police response, and to residents and law enforcement officers challenged with looting and violence from some in the crowd.

Holder joined dozens of FBI agents who have swarmed on the eastern Missouri city, as the U.S. Justice Department’s civil rights division probes the case.

But for charges and a conviction in a federal civil rights case, authorities would have to prove “racial hostility,” according to CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, should they argue that Wilson somehow targeted Brown. Holder himself acknowledged this distinction Wednesday, saying that he hoped all the investigative work being done has a positive impact.

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It is rare to see an attorney general taking such personal interest in a case, according to the L.A. Times, and it likely indicates that Holder is attempting to make the fight for civil rights a central aspect of his tenure. “You have to understand where this case comes from and what it means to civil rights under Holder,” said Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department chief spokesman. “Go back to the beginning of his tenure, to his confirmation hearings. He made one of his key promises that he would restore the credibility of the department’s civil rights division. And he is doing that.”

During his confirmation hearings in January 2009, Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee: “The Civil Rights Division is unique. It is in some ways the conscience of the Justice Department. And I think in some ways you can measure the success of an attorney general’s tenure by how the Civil Rights Division has done.”

Joanna Rothkopf

Joanna Rothkopf is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on science, health and society. Follow @JoannaRothkopf or email jrothkopf@salon.com.

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