Attorney General Eric Holder plans to push, during his final weeks in office, a new standard of proof for civil-rights offenses, saying in an exit interview with POLITICO that such a change would make the federal government “a better backstop” against discrimination in cases like Ferguson and Trayvon Martin.
Holder said that between now and his departure, probably in early March when the Senate is expected to confirm Loretta Lynch as his successor, he will call for a lower standard of proof for civil rights crimes. Such a change would make it easier for the federal government to bring charges in the case of a future Ferguson or Trayvon Martin.
“I think some serious consideration needs to be given to the standard of proof that has to be met before federal involvement is appropriate, and that’s something that I am going to be talking about before I leave office,” Holder, 64, said.
The attorney general’s comments appeared to be aimed partly at preparing the country for the possibility that no federal charges would be brought in the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., last summer. Holder said the inquiry would be completed when he left office, expected around the second week of March.
The Justice Department announced Tuesday that the Martin investigation had been closed, with “insufficient evidence to pursue federal criminal civil rights charges” against George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator who shot the unarmed black teenager to death back in 2012.
Asked if the bar for federal involvement in the civil rights offenses is too high for federal prosecutors to make cases in shootings like those of Martin and Brown, Holder suggested it was.
Lawyers in the Justice Department are looking into various possible reforms of civil rights law. Depending on their determination, it’s possible that Holder will simply argue about the need for a lower standard of proof rather than propose a specific legislative remedy. Possible changes include toughening hate-crimes laws, which were under consideration in the Martin case, and establishing a broader standard for what constitutes a “deprivation of rights under color of law,” the provision that could apply to the police shooting in Ferguson.