Attorney General Eric Holder will announce his resignation from the Justice Department on Thursday, according to White House officials, who said Holder will continue in the position until a successor is named.
The 63-year-old Holder was appointed attorney general at the start of the Obama administration in 2009, but had said be planned to step down at some point this year. He was the first African American to serve in the role.
Perhaps more than any other cabinet member, Holder embodied the partisan divide in Washington. A disciple of the 1960s civil rights movement, he championed policies to improve voter access and end discrimination against same-sex couples.
At the same time, he drew scorn from conservatives who believe he flaunted existing law around issues like marijuana laws.
Here's a timeline of Holder's highs and lows:
Confirmed as attorney general, February 2009
President Obama's historic election win made him the first African American to serve as president. After the victory, he announced another first: he would appoint Eric Holder attorney general, making him the first black person to hold that position.
Holder had a resume common to high-level cabinet appointees, including a mix of experience in the public and private sector. His credentials — and endorsements from prominent Republicans and law enforcement officials — made his confirmation a breeze, with a strong show of bipartisan support.
Opposition to Arizona's immigration law, May 2010
Arizona set a new bar for stringent immigration laws when it passed a law known as SB 1070 in April 2010. The law required immigrants to carry their immigration paperwork at all times and empowered police to stop those suspected of being in the country without authorization.
After the law's passage, Holder expressed worry that it would harm relations between police and immigrants residents. He was skewered by conservative press, however, when he conceded that he had not read the legislation.
In July of 2010, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, claiming that SB 1070 preempted federal immigration law. Two years later, the law was widely ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
Support for same-sex marriage, February 2011
Through the 2000s, states around the country embraced same-sex marriage. Those unions, however, were prohibited by the federal government under the guidelines spelled out by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
In February 2011, the Justice Department announced that it considered DOMA unconstitutional and that it would no longer defend the law in court.
The move had major repercussions. The Supreme Court struck down the law in March 2013, allowing same-sex couple exercise their right to marry in places where states permit it.
In February, Holder told state attorneys general that they are not obligated to defend bans on same-sex marriage if they believe such bans are discriminatory.
"Fast and Furious" gunwalking scandal, June 2011
"Fast and Furious" was the name of a federal law enforcement operation meant to ensnare Mexican cartel members using the sale of illegal firearms. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) oversaw the so-called "gunwalking" program, in which federal agents allowed buyers to purchase firearms in the hopes that they would be transferred illegally and traced to drug gangs.
As details of the program became public in 2011, Holder faced scrutiny from conservative members of Congress over his knowledge of the operation. A fight over releasing documents related to the scandal led some Democrats to walk off the floor of the House in June 2012. The body then voted to place Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding the documents, a first for a sitting cabinet member.
Defense of voting rights, July 2013
A profile in the New Yorker earlier this year called Holder's office at the Justice Department "a civil-rights shrine," complete with a portrait of Robert Kennedy. Fittingly, protection of voting rights emerged as one of his top priorities as attorney general during his tenure.
In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that requirements laid out in the Voting Rights Act — a 1965 law aimed at protecting minorities from discrimination at the polls — were outdated and should be replaced. If Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on new guidelines, the law will remain gutted.
Since the decision, Republican-controlled states have been tightening voting requirements — mandating voters present a photo ID, for instance. Holder opposed the decision to scrap the old law, and devoted his final months in office to combating laws he believed might discourage minorities from voting.
Today's civil rights challenges are different than they were in the 1960s, but "second-generation barriers to voting rights" still remain, he told The New Yorker earlier this year.
"It’s not a question of poll taxes and trying to figure out how many bubbles there are in a bar of soap," he said. “We’re dealing with sophisticated requirements for photo I.D. to combat a non-existent voter fraud. It’s different, but there are nevertheless barriers to voting that can be dealt with under the Voting Rights Act as it now exists.”
Hand-off approach to marijuana sales, August 2013
Two states — Colorado and Washington — voted to legalize the cultivation, possession and sale of marijuana in November 2012. The drug remained illegal under federal law, creating an awkward predicament for the Justice Department.
Holder didn't react immediately, but by August of the following year, he announced the federal government would not obstruct state-level marijuana laws, as long as they followed a certain set of guidelines constructed by the Justice Department.
The departments of Justice and Treasury later released banking regulations for marijuana businesses, which have struggled to operate given the federal ban on the drug.
In an interview Tuesday with Yahoo News, he raised questions about the federal decriminalization of marijuana, without taking an explicit stance. The drug is currently placed in the category of the most dangerous illicit substances, on par with heroin.
Holder told Couric that he's seen "young men [who] didn't need to go to jail for as long as they did." In March, he backed a plan that would reduce sentences for people convicted of dealing drugs by an average of one year per inmate.
"I'm determined to confront [this problem] as long as I'm attorney general," he told Couric.
Emily DeRuy contributed reporting.
Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.