US Embassy Stockholm was thrilled to welcome to Sweden this week the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder. The symbolic significance of the visit was clear: To our knowledge, no sitting U.S. Attorney General has ever visited Sweden. The visit was built around what America and Sweden have in common, and what we can learn from each other. After all, democracy rests on the rule of law. We can learn a lot from each other as democracies, as we confront and address new legal problems.
The visit began with the Attorney General meeting our Embassy team. After getting a briefing from our country team, the Attorney General spent time with our U.S. Marines, taking the time to take individual photos with each. We all know how busy he is, and it was just really classy and generous for him to share his time with our servicemen and women. After that, we had bilateral meetings on international law enforcement issues. Democracies are strengthened when we work together, and engagements like this are such an important part of learning from each other.
In the afternoon, the Attorney General gave an absolutely terrific speech in the old chamber of the Swedish Parliament, clarifying what we Americans stand for: the fight for equality, human dignity and civil rights. A link to the speech , which was entitled “A More Just and Inclusive Wrold: Confronting the Civil Rights Challenges of our Time” can be found here.
Among the most poignant and moving parts of the speech was when Attorney General Holder talked about America’s struggle for civil rights and equality, our country’s legal steps, from the Equal Pay Act of 1963, to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which step by step advanced civil rights in America. When the Attorney General discussed the “countless passionate citizens and courageous young people like the Little Rock Nine – who, in 1957, braved bigotry and threats of violence to become the first African-American students to attend Little Rock Central High School, in Arkansas,” he referred specifically to one of the original members of the Little Rock Nine, who was sitting in the audience in Parliament, Gloria Ray Karlmark. The Attorney General said how incredibly honored we were to have her with us there, as she had helped to open a new, but too long in coming, age of inclusion and opportunity. The Attorney General then spoke off script, but for us all, when he said, “Gloria paved the way for me.” That was an incredible moment that I will never forget. After the speech, the Attorney General met Gloria Ray Karlmark in the hall and they embraced, recognizing each other for the historical figures they are.
The Attorney General has great credibility speaking on this topic. Not only is he the top law enforcement official of the United States, his entire professional life reflects a commitment to this cause. Already, as a student at Columbia Law School in New York, Attorney General Holder worked for the Legal Defense Fund of the NAACP, the largest and oldest civil rights organization in the United States. Following graduation, he began his long career at the Department of Justice. Working in the Department of Justice’s Public Integrity Section in 1976, he was tasked to investigate and prosecute official corruption on the local, state and federal levels.
Later, as a U.S. Attorney in Washington, he pulled together attorneys, their staffs and diverse communities to build communication between law enforcement officials and underrepresented communities. In 1997, President Clinton appointed Mr. Holder Deputy Attorney General, the first African-American named to that post.
In 2008, President Obama nominated him to be Attorney General, the first African-American named to that post as well. Since becoming Attorney General, he has continued his strong advocacy for civil and human rights.
To me, the shared value between the United States and Sweden that most closely links us is a shared commitment to fight for human dignity and equality and for what is just. It was an incredible honor to listen to Attorney General Holder remind all of us, Americans, Swedes, and others from around the world, of what we stand for. Read the speech, you will see what I mean.
Thank you, Attorney General, for your wonderful engagement in Sweden!