Attorney General Eric Holder at the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, September 26, 2014 in Washington DC.
Danielle Belton

In light of Thursday’s surprise announcement that Attorney General Eric Holder is stepping down after six years, Holder addressed the shock and unease over his pending resignation at the Congressional Black Caucus’ Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C. Holder joked that he was still the attorney general and wasn’t gone yet during his opening remarks at a voting-rights panel at the conference Friday.

Holder vowed to continue to be dedicated to his work until a new attorney general is appointed and sworn in. “Although my time at the Justice Department will draw to a close in the coming months—once my successor has been nominated and confirmed—I want you to know that my commitment to this work will never waver,” Holder said. “And in the meantime, there remains a great deal to be done. I have no intention of letting up or slowing down.”

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During the wide-ranging, nearly 20-minute speech, Holder touched on voting rights, civil rights, improving the juvenile-justice system and Washington, D.C.’s lack of voting rights in Congress, all while reflecting on his tenure as attorney general.

Holder vowed that for the upcoming midterm elections, leaders from the Voting Section of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will be working with civil rights organizations, U.S. attorneys and others to launch federal-election monitors across the country to watch polling places and ensure that voting rights are protected.

“We will continue this fight until all Americans have equal access to the ballot box—no matter who they are or where they live,” Holder said. “We will continue our efforts until all Americans share the same opportunities for engagement in the democratic process.”

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Reflecting on his time with the Justice Department, Holder expressed his pride in working “with so many dedicated public servants, devoted advocates, and passionate leaders of our ongoing fight for equal rights and equal justice.”

He recapped some of the work of which he was most proud, touting the success of his year-old Smart on Crime initiative, saying that the DOJ has “implemented important reforms and evidence-based strategies to make America’s criminal-justice system both fairer and more effective. “

Holder also touted his National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice in light of the turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., over the shooting death of teen Michael Brown by police. “Through the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, which I announced earlier this month, we are striving to eliminate mistrust and build strong relationships between law-enforcement officers and the communities they serve—so we can defuse tensions that simmer just under the surface in too many cities and towns across the country, and that too often give rise to tragic events like those that captured our national attention last month in Ferguson, Missouri,” Holder said.

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In his speech, Holder also rededicated his efforts to helping black and brown boys and young men by announcing a new initiative—the Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative—“which will promote systemwide reform and bolster our efforts to end racial and ethnic disparities.”

The new initiative will be launched in three states: Georgia, Kentucky and Hawaii. Holder said that these states will be working with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Public Safety Performance Project to “provide diversion alternatives, community-based options and other reforms aimed at reducing recidivism, decreasing correctional spending and improving public safety—all while reducing the number of youth who come into contact with the criminal-justice system.”

On the subject of D.C.’s not having voting representation in Congress, Holder reiterated that he himself is a D.C. resident and that the fight for voting rights should also include ensuring that residents of Washington, D.C., have a voice in the political process.

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Holder called on groups like the Congressional Black Caucus “to continue your efforts until all Americans can make their voices heard in the halls of the federal government—including the more than 600,000 taxpayers who, like me, live in the District of Columbia and still have no voting representation in Congress. It is long past time for every citizen to be afforded his or her full responsibilities and full rights.”