U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced today he will be stepping down as soon as his successor can be nominated and confirmed.
Holder, the first African-American to hold the post, took office shortly after President Barack Obama began his first term in 2009. Holder leaves on something of a high note, reports The New York Times: Earlier this week, he announced that the federal prison population declined for the first time since 1980 on his watch, and should continue to do so for at least the next two years.
What the story behind Holder's time in office and his forthcoming departure? Here are five things you should know:
He's not going anywhere yet. In his official remarks announcing his resignation, Holder mentioned that he would be leaving sometime "in the months ahead." He will remain in the job while President Obama searches for his replacement, which could take until after the new year.
His resignation is not a surprise. Although only made official today, Holder's possible plans to resign have been the source of speculation for some time. According to Reuters, Holder had previously signaled he was considering stepping down before the end of the year, and confirmed those plans during a White House meeting earlier this month.
His previous positions. After graduating from Columbia Law School, Holder joined the U.S. Justice Department in 1976, where he served until being appointed as a judge for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia by President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Holder then worked as a U.S. attorney for President Bill Clinton before serving as deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. He worked in private practice until joining Obama's presidential campaign as a legal advisor and then being nominated and confirmed as attorney general.
His legacy as attorney general. The drop in federal prison population is at least in part a result of one of Holder's more recent priorities as attorney general: scaling back mandatory prison sentences for low-level drug offenders and other non-violent criminals. But his tenure was also marked by its fair share of controversy, including Holder being held in contempt of Congress in 2012 after refusing to comply with subpoenas related to the Justice Department's controversial "Fast and Furious" gun-tracking program. Other accomplishments cited by Holder in his speech include his advocacy for LGBT equality, increased environmental protections, and his department's prosecution of suspected terrorists.
What happens next? President Obama will select a nominee for a new attorney general to serve out the remainder of the president's term. However, any nominee will have to win confirmation by the Senate, which may be complicated if Republicans can lessen or overtake the Democratic Senate majority in the upcoming midterm elections.
According to The New York Times, candidates mentioned as possible replacements for Holder include Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, former White House counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, and former Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm.