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Eric Holder steps up, digs in, and breaks out

Associated Press

We talked yesterday about Attorney General Eric Holder giving officials in Colorado and Washington a green light on their state measures legalizing recreational use of marijuana, but the story, which Rachel explored in more detail last night, got me thinking about Holder's tenure.

For a typical conservative, I suspect the Attorney General would top the list for his or her least favorite member of President Obama's cabinet. Holder is truly reviled on the right, to the point that calls for his resignation have come from the RNC, many Senate Republicans, and at last count, 122 House Republicans.

But once we get past the partisan sniping and consider the policy breakthroughs, Eric Holder appears to have quietly positioned himself not only as a progressive champion, but as one of the more accomplished attorneys general in recent memory.

Think about some of the recent policies Holder has chosen to tackle: voting rights; sentencing reforms; condemnations of "Stand Your Ground" laws, and of course the drug policy announced yesterday. These are critically important law-enforcement policies, some of which have been neglected and ignored by officials in both parties for years, long in need of leadership -- which Holder is now providing.

Even when the Justice Department arguably went too far in subpoenaing reporters' phone logs as part of a leak investigation, it was Holder who soon after approved reforms to make it more difficult for this to happen in the future through higher search-warrant standards, and ensuring more advance notice for news organizations.

The A.G. isn't just breaking sharply with Justice Department practices in the Bush/Cheney era; Holder is changing the trajectory of regressive policies that have gotten worse for decades.

This certainly isn't to say his tenure has been flawless, but the political world generally only focuses on Holder when Republicans are attacking him, and that's a shame. On a variety of key areas, the Attorney General seems wildly underrated.