Fact-checking 7 claims about Eric Holder

President Barack Obama stands with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. who announced his resignation. (Getty)
President Barack Obama stands with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. who announced his resignation. (Getty)

Eric Holder served as President Barack Obama’s attorney general for six years. Among his signature issues were arguing in favor of voting rights and fairness in prison sentences. On Sept. 25, 2014, the Justice Department announced he would step down after a new attorney general is confirmed.

Here at PolitiFact, we found Holder was often on the receiving end of provocative statements, with attacks against him ranging from completely wrong to accurate.

In Texas, a conservative poll-watching group called True the Vote claimed in 2011 that Holder wanted the United Nations involved in American elections. PolitiFact Texas found no factual basis for the claim and rated the statement Pants on Fire.

Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential nominee, claimed earlier this year that Holder wanted gun owners to have to wear identification bracelets. Actually, Holder was interested in promoting smart gun technology where the gun would only fire if held by its rightful owner. That’s very different from Palin’s description, so we rated her statement False.

Fox News host Bill O’Reilly argued in 2010 that Holder was to blame when criminal charges were not brought against the New Black Panther Party on voter intimidation. The reality is that criminal charges were ruled out before Obama took office. We rated O’Reilly’s statement False.

Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert said on Fox News in 2013 that Holder’s Justice Department ordered people to accept gay marriage. "There's a memo that directs that you must openly embrace gay marriage and homosexuality. And silence is considered to be disapproval," Gohmert said.

The Justice Department promotes diversity, but there’s no mandate that employees support gay marriage. A subset of workers received a brochure from an agency-sanctioned employee group encouraging managers to respect and support gay workers. PolitiFact Texas rated the claim Mostly False.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh claimed that Republican senators who criticized Holder initially welcomed him. "They went out of the way to praise Holder's nomination. I'll never forget that," he said, adding, "By the way, not a single Republican senator opposed Eric Holder's nomination."

Limbaugh has a point that several prominent senators spoke highly of Holder as his nomination was being considered, but it’s not true that no GOP senator voted against Holder -- 21 did. We rated his claim Half True.

In at least one case, a Republican governor said Holder’s approval proved the state had a good record on voting rights. "Attorney General Eric Holder’s own Justice Department precleared the voting changes in the 2011 law" about early voting in Florida, said Gov. Rick Scott.

Actually, the department only signed off on the state’s plan after the state agreed to offer early voting hours to satisfy a court ruling. PolitiFact Florida rated Scott’s claim Half True.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, made an accurate statement in criticizing Holder’s choice for an investigation into government leaks.

Cornyn said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen "has donated thousands of dollars to President Obama’s political campaigns; he vetted vice presidential candidates for the Obama team in 2008; and he got his first job as a federal prosecutor from, you guessed it, Eric Holder." Cornyn argued that meant Machen wasn’t independent.

We stayed away from the question of whether that meant Machen wasn’t independent. But Cornyn’s description of the donations and Machen’s role in vetting was accurate, so we rated the statement True.

We have fact-checked two claims from Holder himself, both about voting rights.

Holder said that laws about voter IDs could have a disparate impact on minorities. Recent studies indicated that nationally, only 8 percent of white voting-age citizens but 25 percent of African-American voting-age citizens lack government-issued photo IDs, Holder said.

The data is somewhat limited -- the largest national study was in 2006 -- but overall, the evidence supports Holder’s point. PolitiFact Texas rated the statement Mostly True.

We also looked at Holder’s comments praising the effectiveness of the Justice Department’s work in enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

"For example, after filing a lawsuit in Rhode Island, we reached an agreement with state agencies that resulted in more voters being registered in the first full month after our lawsuit than in the entire previous two-year reporting period," Holder said in a 2011 speech.

Under the two-year agreement, the state is required to supply the Justice Department with voter registration numbers from the agencies. PolitiFact Rhode Island reviewed the state’s numbers and rated Holder’s statement True.