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Atty. Gen. Holder failed to disclose legal briefs to senators

His inaction regarding a handful of briefs to the Supreme Court prior to his confirmation is raising criticism from Republicans. The attorney general says it was an oversight.

March 12, 2010|By David G. Savage

Reporting from Washington — Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. gave more ammunition to his critics Friday, admitting he had failed to tell a Senate committee about half a dozen briefs to the Supreme Court that he had signed, including two involving a terrorism dispute.


FOR THE RECORD:
Atty. Gen. Eric Holder: An article in Saturday's Section A reporting on criticism of Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. for failing to tell a Senate committee last year that he had signed about half a dozen Supreme Court briefs attributed to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) the comment that Holder had "a duty of candor" to disclose all of his significant legal writings before his confirmation. This statement was made by Stephen Boyd, the senator's communications director. —

Holder's aides said the failure to mention the briefs last year before his confirmation was an oversight and a mistake.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called it an "extremely serious matter" that would trigger sharp criticism when Holder is due to be questioned March 23.

"The attorney general, as with all nominees, has a duty of candor. . . . It is simply unacceptable that briefs in such significant cases were not provided to the committee so they could be discussed during his confirmation hearing," Sessions said.

Holder has run into a drumbeat of Republican criticism since he announced in November that he had decided to move the admitted Sept. 11 plotters, including self-proclaimed mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, from military custody at Guantanamo Bay to be tried in a federal civilian court in Manhattan. The attorney general said this trial would demonstrate the nation's commitment to the rule of law.

His Republican critics said these foreign terrorism suspects did not deserve to be tried in a civilian court with all the rights of Americans. More recently, the Obama administration has backed away from Holder's plan, but has not decided where the men will be tried.

The six briefs to the Supreme Court were not Holder's work alone. In every instance, he was one of a group of prominent lawyers or ex-judges who signed a friend-of-the-court brief.

One urged the justices to overturn a Texas murder conviction because prosecutors had excluded African Americans from the jury. The high court did just that.

A second urged the justices to stop police investigators from steering around the Miranda warnings by persuading suspects to confess before they were told of their right to remain silent. Again, the Supreme Court agreed.

Twice, Holder signed briefs along with former Atty. Gen. Janet Reno in the case of accused "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla. Though he was an American citizen who was arrested in Chicago, the Bush administration maintained it could hold him indefinitely in a military brig as an enemy combatant. Reno and Holder argued that an American citizen had a right to be charged with a crime and tried in federal court.

Two lower courts agreed with the Bush administration, but when Padilla lodged an appeal in the Supreme Court in 2006, the administration reversed course. Padilla was sent to trial in a federal court in Florida, where he was convicted for supporting terrorists and imprisoned.

david.savage@latimes.com

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