Attorney General Eric Holder, who has addressed questions about drones, cybersecurity, marijuana legalization, and other issues during his time in the Obama administration, is stepping down. NPR first reported the news today, saying that Holder would leave as soon as the Senate confirmed a successor, which could happen as late as next year; the White House has since confirmed the news in a statement. Holder took office in 2009, appointed by President Barack Obama in his first term. NPR quotes a former official as saying that Holder wanted to leave before being committed to staying the rest of Obama's second term; he's already one of the longest-serving US attorneys general. This spring, he said he would stay "well into 2014," but declined to be more specific.
Holder has focused on civil rights during his tenure, and he's also been part of the broad debate over how government, civil liberties, and technology should intersect. After information about the US drone program leaked in 2013, he was called to explain the rationale behind targeted airstrikes on American citizens. Holder gave the first real confirmation of how many citizens had been killed in these strikes, and he defended the rationale used to carry them out; he's since had to elaborate on the bounds of the drone program. His Justice Department also filed espionage charges against Edward Snowden, the man behind last year's NSA leaks. Early this year, Holder took a firm stance in the case, saying that clemency wasn't an option and urging Snowden to return and plead guilty. And he was criticized (albeit arguably as a political ploy) for targeting hacktivist Aaron Swartz for prosecution, a factor in his January 2013 suicide.
At the same time, the Justice Department under Holder has attempted to rein in the American criminal justice system. In 2012, it criticized the Baltimore Police Department for trying to stop citizens from filming police officers. Later, Holder said that the Department of Justice would not challenge state laws legalizing marijuana, despite federal laws that could let it overrule them. After the police shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, he announced a federal investigation into the city police department — one of over 20 police civil rights investigations opened under his watch — and he's spoken about the need to reduce high incarceration rates, which particularly affect racial and ethnic minorities. There's no word on who might replace Holder, but Obama officially made a statement on his resignation this afternoon.