US Attorney General Holder Speaks at UM

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder urged University of Montana law students Wednesday to choose careers in public service and also addressed such sensitive topics as medical marijuana and the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The nation’s highest law enforcement officer spoke at the annual Judge William B. Jones and Judge Edward A. Tamm Judicial Lecture Series, which has in previous years featured several U.S. Supreme Court justices as well as the U.S. solicitor general.

The Missoulian reports that Holder highlighted the swearing in of Robert F. Kennedy as U.S. attorney general a half-century ago and recounted the activism that soon followed.

Such activism, he said, “may be America’s oldest — and perhaps finest — tradition,” Holder said. “Since our nation’s earliest days, young people — and, specifically, young lawyers — have been using their knowledge and training to stand up for justice.”

“Today I call on each of you to choose action, to choose compassion,” he said.

Holder’s speech focused on the next generation of lawyers, but a question-and-answer session afterward explored more specific topics.

The attorney general, who by way of a 2009 memo he wrote is partly responsible for Montana’s proliferation of medical marijuana cardholders, stressed that illegal trafficking in marijuana under the guise of medical use will be prosecuted.

“I made it clear that I’m not going to allow those laws (legalizing the medical use of marijuana) to be used in a way to allow actions illegal in nature,” he said.

Montana voters passed an initiative in 2004 that legalized the use of marijuana for those with debilitating medical conditions. During the first five years the law was in effect, about 7,300 people signed up for medical marijuana cards. But in October 2009, Holder issued a memo that said prosecuting those who legitimately use marijuana for medical reasons is probably not an efficient use of limited federal resources.

The number of medical marijuana cardholders in Montana nearly quadrupled within the next 16 months.

Holder also addressed Guantanamo Bay, which remains open despite the White House’s declaration that it intends to shut it down.

“The whole question of closing Guantanamo became a really big political issue,” he said, noting that successes have been made. “All the intelligence tells us that Guantanamo serves as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida.”

The number of people being held at Guantanamo has been reduced to 170 from 240, but Congress has blocked attempts to move the prisoners.

The question-and-answer portion of the lecture was conducted by Robert S. Bennett, who represented President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky investigation and New York Times reporter Judith Miller in the case of outed CIA agent Valerie Plame.

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Information from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com

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