Senate confirms Merrick Garland as attorney general

merrick garland
Judge Merrick Garland testifies at his confirmation hearing for attorney general.

The Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general of the United States, elevating the longtime federal jurist to become the country’s chief law enforcement officer. The widely-expected confirmation went through with broad bipartisan support in a vote of 70 in favor to 30 opposed.

Twenty Republicans joined Democrats to confirm Garland: Sens. Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, Shelley Capito, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, John Cornyn, Joni Ernst, Lindsey Graham, Chuck Grassley, Jim Inhofe, Ron Johnson, James Lankford, Mitch McConnell, Jerry Moran, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman, Mitt Romney, Mike Rounds, John Thune, and Thom Tillis.

President Joe Biden nominated Garland to lead the Department of Justice on January 7, saying in a statement that Garland and other DOJ nominees reflected Biden’s “deeply held commitment to reaffirming the Department of Justice as a pillar of independence and integrity, and ensuring that the Attorney General and his senior leadership team are the American people’s lawyers – not the president’s law firm.”

At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Garland committed to assuring that the DOJ applies the rule of law so that “the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, and that the rights of all Americans are protected.”

He will face a torrent of high-profile issues, including investigations into the deadly January 6 Capitol riot, immigration, the future of the death penalty, and the Hunter Biden tax probe.

Garland pledged during his confirmation hearings that the Capitol insurrection would be his “first priority” as attorney general.

“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 – a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” he said at the time.

Garland criticized the migrant child separation policy of former President Donald Trump as “shameful.”

“I can’t imagine anything worse than tearing parents from their children, and we will provide all the cooperation that we possibly can,” he said.

After a surge of young migrants at the US-Mexico border, Biden has temporarily reopened a Texas facility for unaccompanied children, drawing harsh criticism from progressives and immigration activists.

Biden is opposed to the death penalty and Garland echoed many of the sentiments shared by opponents of the practice, citing an “arbitrariness and randomness” of the punishment.

“I am very concerned about the large number of exonerations that have occurred through DNA evidence and otherwise, not only in death penalty convictions but also in other convictions,” he said.

Garland also said that he hadn’t spoken to the president about his son, Hunter, and pledged that any investigations into the younger Biden’s tax affairs would be handled independently by the DOJ and without interference from the White House.

When Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey asked him to discuss his motivation for serving as attorney general, Garland became emotional.

“I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution,” he said. “The country took us in and protected us, and I feel an obligation to the country to pay back, and this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”

Garland, 68, previously served as a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, since 1997. He began his professional career at the DOJ in the 1970s under President Jimmy Carter and is widely respected in the legal community.

Before becoming a federal judge, Garland oversaw the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 other people.

In March 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Aware of the deterioration of Senate legislative comity, Obama asked that Garland’s nomination be removed from the politics of the moment and that he be granted a hearing and a vote.

But Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, then the majority leader, stonewalled Garland’s nomination, left the seat empty, and said the winner of the 2016 general election should nominate Scalia’s successor to “give the American people a voice.”

Garland stepped away from hearing active cases in the DC circuit court after his nomination but returned to the bench in January 2017, when President Donald Trump was sworn in.

Trump quickly filled the Supreme Court vacancy, nominating conservative Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to the seat in April 2017.

During Garland’s confirmation hearings, he faced many of the same Republicans who blocked his nomination, but in the end, he won many of them over.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina praised Garland’s tenure on the federal bench and his reputation for judicial independence.

“Merrick Garland has an outstanding record serving our country and has a deep understanding of the law,” Tillis said in a statement. “I have no doubt he will serve with integrity, keeping the best interest of our great country in mind with every decision he makes, and will respect the constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans.”

McConnell once described blocking Garland’s Supreme Court nomination as “the most consequential thing I’ve ever done.”

This week, he voted to confirm Garland as attorney general.

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