Policy Summary: On January 7, 2021 President – elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr. nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the position of Attorney General of the United States.

Judge Garland had first served in the Department of Justice (DOJ) from 1979 – 1981 where he was special assistant to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti during the Carter Administration. In 1993 he returned to DOJ as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division. While in this position he oversaw prosecution of domestic terrorism cases, notably the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic bombings in Centennial Park.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton nominated Judge Garland to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. However, Republicans in the Senate did not schedule a vote on his nomination at that time. After President Clinton was re – elected in 1996 he re – nominated Mr. Garland again to the same seat where he was confirmed 76 – 23 by the Senate. Judge Garland served on the court and even was promoted to Chief Judge of the court from 2013 to 2020. In 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Judge Garland to the Supreme Court of the United States in the wake of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February 2016. However, Republicans in the Senate, led by Sen. Mitch McConnell (KY-R), refused to consider the nomination and preferred to wait for the outcome of the election which was eleven months away. After President Trump won the election, Judge Garland’s nomination expired and President Trump selected Neil Gorsuch to replace Justice Scalia. Judge Garland returned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia where he continues to serve as a judge.

Policy Analysis: The nomination of Judge Garland to become the next Attorney General of the United States is a surprise pick in that there were other candidates who had significant support and were favored to receive the nomination. But the choice is not an unwelcome choice given Judge Garland’s credentials and what he can bring to the position at the start of Joe Biden’s presidency.

Judge Garland’s nomination illustrates how President – elect Biden wants to steer the DOJ after the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency. In his remarks introducing Judge Garland as his nominee Biden stated the “[N]eed to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the DOJ of this nation that has been badly damaged.” He also went on to say that “You are not the president’s or the vice – president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution and the people of this nation.” These statements are a clear rebuke to the leadership of the DOJ the last four years.

How does this relate to the nominee himself? The pick of Judge Garland signals that partisanship will no longer be a factor in the day to day operations of the department and that an emphasis will be placed on professionalism and ethical behavior. Tom Goldstein, writer of the popular SCOTUSblog, has called Judge Garland the model of a neutral judge and the judge has won acclaim as a jurist who can work with all judges as found by his court rulings and opinions that have a low rate of dissenting opinions from other colleagues. His nomination also signals that highly contested issues will be dealt with an eye towards following the rules and evidence wherever it may lead instead of investigations where some groups demand a specific result. From his first day as Attorney General, there will be ongoing investigations of President Trump’s obstruction of justice incidents (including the president’s incitement of the riot at the Capitol the day before Biden’s announcement of his Attorney General nominee), allegations of tax fraud by the president and a criminal tax probe of Biden’s son Hunter. With Judge Garland likely leading the Justice Department, Americans can feel much more comfortable that these issues will be investigated and handled in a professional and neutral manner instead of in the haphazard partisan way that President Trump wanted. And this is the key in the Judge Garland nomination – that the Justice Department will return to serving the best interests of this nation and her citizens instead of the selfish whims of a President who was looking only to shield himself from criticism and criminal liability on a number of different fronts. Judge Merrick Garland should be confirmed as soon as possible so the Department can turn the corner on the last four years of the Trump presidency. LEARN MORE, LEARN MORE 

Engagement Resources:

Department of Justice Office of the Attorney General – news and speeches from OAG.

American Bar Association (ABA) – 2016 report of Judge Garland’s qualifications, integrity and professionalism when he was nominated to the Supreme Court.

This brief was compiled by Rod Maggay. If you have comments or want to add the name of your organization to this brief, please contact Rod@USResistnews.org.

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