By Terrance Turner
Jan. 6, 2021
Photo from Politico.
President-Elect Joe Biden has selected Judge Merrick Garland to serve as Attorney General. Politico confirmed the news with two sources familiar with the decision.
In 2016, then-President Barack Obama nominated Judge Garland to serve on the Supreme Court, filling the vacancy left by late Justice Antonin Scalia. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) blocked Garland’s nomination. McConnell refused to even bring the nomination up for a vote, letting him languish in limbo for a whole year. When President Trump took office, he nominated Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill that seat.
McConnell blocked Garland on the pretense of not filling a Supreme Court seat during an election year. But that excuse went out the window after the death of legendary Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. McConnell sped through Justice Amy Comey Barrett’s confirmation within mere days — despite it being mere weeks before the election. Now, however, McConnell faces the prospect of being Minority Leader, and Garland has been selected for the nation’s highest law enforcement slot.
Garland, 68, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. According to Axios, he has served on the U.S. District Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia since 1997. He served as chief judge from 2013 to Feb. 2020, according to The New York Times. He is a moderate, and he has gotten praise for high-quality opinions — clear, reasoned, and attentive to precedent — per the Times.
In a press conference on Jan. 7, Biden introduced Garland as his pick. Observers noted that Garland has prosecuted domestic terrorists such as the Oklahoma City bombers and the Olympic bombing in Atlanta. That experience proves especially valuable in light of yesterday’s terrorist attack on the Capitol. Biden spoke at length about the riot in his remarks today. “They weren’t protestors. Don’t dare call them protestors. They were a riotous mob […] domestic terrorists,” Biden asserted. He also noted that Garland had pointed out a little-known fact: the Department of Justice was originally formed to combat the Ku Klux Klan, to enforce the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments.
Biden emphasized that Garland would serve “not as a personal attorney for the president, but the people’s lawyer.” Biden added: “You won’t work for me. You are not the president or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me, it’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation to guarantee justice.”
UPDATE: Merrick Garland is currently answering questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of his confirmation hearings. Garland grew emotional as he talked about his motivation for becoming attorney general: “I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us,” he said, his voice breaking. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back….This is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”
“I want very much to become the kind of Attorney General you’re saying I could become, Garland continued, fighting back tears: “I’ll do my best to try to be that kind of Attorney General.”
Garland said that handling prosecution for the Jan. 6 Capitol riot would be his first priority if confirmed. “I think this was the most heinous attack on the democratic processes that I’ve ever seen, and one that I never expected to see in my lifetime,” Judge Garland told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. He added that the current investigation into the riot—which, to date, has 250 people facing criminal charges—appeared to be “extremely aggressive and perfectly appropriate.”
According to the Associated Press, “His nomination has gained public support on both sides of the political aisle, from more than 150 former Justice Department officials — including former attorneys general Loretta Lynch, Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales, along with 61 former federal judges. Others, including two sons of former Attorney General Edward Levi, have also written letters of support to Congress.”
One member of the Senate Judiciary Committee says that Garland’s position is a crucial development: “There have been few moments in history where the role of attorney general — and the occupant of that post — have mattered more,” the committee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said.
UPDATE (March 10, 2021): Merrick Garland was confirmed today by the Senate. The vote was 70-30.