President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, as the next attorney general.
During the announcement last week, Biden lauded Garland as “one of the most respected jurists of our time.”
“Brilliant yet humble. Distinguished yet modest. Full of character and decency,” Biden added. “Those same traits he will now bring to the attorney general of the United States. Not as a personal attorney to the president, but as the people’s lawyer. He’ll restore trust in the rule of law … and I fully expect that he’ll receive a fair and swift confirmation.”
“Once he’s confirmed I will move promptly to nominate his replacement on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and I fully expect the distinguished nominee will receive a prompt and fair hearing as well,” the president-elect said.
This nomination comes almost five years after former President Barack Obama nominated Garland to the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, who held a Republican majority, did not hold a confirmation hearing for Garland’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitchell McConnell (R-Ky.) said the incoming president should fill the vacancy because it was Obama’s last year in office.
After 293 days Garland’s nomination expired resulting in an unprecedented situation — for the first time since the 19th century a Supreme Court nominee didn’t receive consideration.
Garland says reentering the justice department as the top lawyer will be a homecoming for him.
Throughout his career, he’s held numerous roles at the department, from U.S. attorney to criminal division supervisor and senior official in the office of the deputy attorney general.
He served in the Carter and Bush administrations and was nominated by President Clinton to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals where he has served since 1997.
Garland touted his career during the announcement highlighting that he’s worked on every issue in the department from civil rights and antitrust to domestic terrorism and national security.
The nominee said he would run the department with fair democracy in mind taking inspiration from former attorneys general.
“The essence of the rule of law is that like cases are treated alike,” Garland said. “That there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans. One rule for friends, another for foes, one rule for the powerful, another for the powerless. One rule for the rich and another for the poor or different rules depending upon one’s race and ethnicity.
“To serve as attorney general at this critical time…I am honored and eager to answer,” Garland said.
Biden also made other notable justice department appointments with Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Advocacy groups like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights applauded Biden’s selections to lead the nation’s highest branch of law enforcement.
“With Garland, Monaco, Gupta, and Clarke at the helm, the department can work to ensure police accountability, fairness in sentencing, enforcement of hate crimes laws, and educational equity, as well as protect the rights of Black and brown communities, people with disabilities, LGBTQ individuals, and religious minorities,” said LaShawn Warren, executive vice president of government affairs at The Leadership Conference.
Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and founder of the National Action Network, says while he too applauds the new leadership coming to the department, he has some trepidation toward Garland.
“I would have still preferred a Black attorney general nominee or someone with a clear record on voting rights and police reform, particularly at this day and time,” Sharpton said. “I’m unclear on Judge Garland’s record on both and there are very few, if any, written arguments that he has as a judge to track these positions. I therefore think that he should immediately meet with the civil rights leadership that has met with President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris to discuss things like enforcement of voting rights and police accountability as well as pending legislation with both.”
Sharpton says despite his reservations, Garland’s nomination is a clear message to Republicans who stopped his appointment to the Supreme Court.
“This is a thumb in the eye to Mitch McConnell, the former majority leader of the Senate,” he said. “I am nonetheless excited about the nomination of Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke to head up the civil rights division.
“The potential of them in the Justice Department gives me some cause to feel that this Justice Department will at least be a radical change from the four years of anti-civil rights, anti-voting-rights and anti-police reform of the outgoing administration,” Sharpton said.