U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has nominated private practice lawyer Eric Holder to become the nation's first African-American U.S. attorney general.

If the U.S. Senate confirms his appointment, Holder would become the first African-American to head the U.S. Justice Department.

Holder previously made history as the highest ranking African-American law enforcement official in the country when he was appointed deputy attorney general under then-President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Democratic Party officials say one of Holder's top priorities will be to reform the Justice Department's reputation, after controversies surrounding its hiring practices and anti-terror regulations.

But some lawmakers have criticized the selection because of Holder's involvement in the controversial 2001 pardon of a fugitive financier, Marc Rich, by the Clinton presidency.  At the time, Holder said he was neutral and leaning toward favoring the pardon.

The head of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has said Holder would make an outstanding nominee and should have bipartisan support.

An early supporter of Mr. Obama's campaign, Holder helped investigate candidates to become Mr. Obama's vice presidential running mate. 

The former prosecutor and judge has also served as U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia.