U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to keynote MLK luncheon Friday

Published: Monday, Jan. 9 2012 5:52 p.m. MST

Attorney General Eric Holder

Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. will deliver the keynote speech for the Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission annual luncheon on Friday at the Sheraton Salt Lake City.

Holder, the nation's first African-American attorney general, will be introduced by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff. Holder also is scheduled to visit U.S. Attorney for Utah David Barlow, who is a recent appointment.

Although Holder's visit has stirred controversy in some segments of Utah's Republican Party, Shurtleff said Monday that Holder has been one of the most accessible attorneys general he has worked with in his three terms as state attorney general.

"This administration has been the easiest to talk to and the easiest to collaborate on issues with," Shurtleff said.

Shurtleff has had a number of meetings with Holder and his chief deputies on issues ranging from the college football Bowl Championship Series and immigration laws passed by the Utah Legislature to lower-profile issues such as mortgage fraud and Internet safety. The Department of Justice is challenging the constitutionality of HB497, Utah's immigration enforcement law, which was passed by the Utah Legislature in 2010.

Holder, who was sworn in as the nation's 82nd attorney general in February 2009, graduated from Columbia Law School in 1976. His legal career has largely been spent working in the Department of Justice, including an appointment in 1997 as deputy attorney general by President Bill Clinton. Holder was the first African-American named to that post, according to the DOJ website.

Holder was a litigation partner at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, D.C., prior to his appointment as U.S. attorney general by President Obama.

Shurtleff said Holder's visit to Utah is "huge for our community, not just for our growing minority community but for all of Utah. He is the first African-American attorney general to serve our nation."

Some members of Congress have called for Holder's resignation over the ongoing congressional investigation of the "Operation Fast and Furious" sting operation led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The sting reportedly went awry when the ATF lost track of some 1,400 high-powered weapons it planned to trace as they changed hands between illegal buyers to Mexican drug cartels.

The awards luncheon is conducted each year to celebrate King's legacy as a civil rights leader who advocated social justice, equality and peace, Shurtleff said. "This really isn't a time to address political issues," he said of the observance.

Roderic Land, chairman of Utah's Martin Luther King Jr. Human Rights Commission, said Holder's visit is "phenomenal" for the state of Utah.

"Having Eric Holder come here speaks volumes about where we are as a nation and where we need to be," Land said.

The event, which begins at 11 a.m., is open to the public but seating is limited. To register, email Debra Charleston at dcharleston@utah.gov. A minimum $10 contribution is recommended.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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