Strong Bipartisan Support Bouys Garland to AG
WASHINGTON – The Senate confirmed Judge Merrick Garland to serve as the nation’s next attorney general on Wednesday, with strong, bipartisan showing of support.
When the vote was over, the man once denied a U.S. Supreme Court seat due to intransigent partisanship was approved 70-30m with 20 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in supporting him.
He is expected to be sworn in at the Justice Department on Thursday.
During his confirmation hearing, Garland said that becoming attorney general would “be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced and the rights of all Americans are protected.”
He also vowed to restore public faith in the department after years of it being emboiled in one political controversy after another during the Trump Administration.
“I am the United States’s lawyer. I will do everything in my power to fend off any effort by anyone to make prosecutions or investigations partisan or political in any way,” Garland said during his confirmation hearing.
Later, in response to a senator’s question, he said, “I would not have taken this job if I thought that politics would have any influence over prosecutions and investigations.”
“After Donald Trump spent four years — four long years — subverting the powers of the Justice Department for his own political benefit, treating the attorney general like his own personal defense lawyer, America can breathe a sigh of relief that we’re going to have someone like Merrick Garland leading the Justice Department,” said Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., ahead of the vote. “Someone with integrity, independence, respect for the rule of law and credibility on both sides of the aisle.”
Garland’s tenure at the Justice Department begins at a time of tension within and around it. The department was heavily politicized during the Trump years, and among the items that will be front and center in his first weeks on the job are the ongoing inquiry into the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot, a federal tax fraud inquiry into President Biden’s son Hunter and a special counsel inquiry into the Russia investigation.
The department will also be involved in civil and criminal cases related to issues that have bitterly divided the country, including systemic racism, policing, regulation of big tech and social media companies, and a host of civil liberties matters.
“Attorney General Garland must now begin the hard work of repairing the deeply tarnished reputation of the U.S. Department of Justice and its vital role as chief enforcer of our civil rights,” said Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, after Garland’s confirmation was assured.
“In order to do that, he must do everything within his power to fight for racial justice, voting rights, economic justice, LBGTQ equality, disability rights, and other pressing civil and human rights issues. He needs the leadership team, especially Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, to do this crucially important work. We call on the Senate to quickly confirm both Gupta and Clarke,” Henderson said.
Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, congratulated Garland, and said the organziation was “encouraged to hear that he agrees with us on many very important drug policy issues, such as allowing states to regulate marijuana without fear of federal intervention, eradicating the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenses, and ending mandatory minimums.
“Still, some of his comments around his support for prioritizing fentanyl prosecutions gave us pause, and we would encourage him to support ending mandatory minimums for drug offenses altogether,” Perez said. “This cruel sentencing practice has caused insurmountable harm in communities of color, while making no impact on the supply of illicit drugs. Rather, as Attorney General, we urge him to ensure real justice and public health are at the heart of the department’s approach to drugs moving forward.”
Promisingly, Garland takes over the Justice Department after decades of building one of the deepest set of credentials in law.
He clerked for Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., worked for years as a federal prosecutor and led the investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
In 1997, he was confirmed to a sear of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and was chosen by President Barack Obama in 2016 to join the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. His nomination was ultimately blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., who maintained for eight months that a Supreme Court nominee shouldn’t be confirmed “so close to a presidential election.”
This time around Garland, not only won the support of Republicans, he also won the vote of Mitch McConnell, who said, “I’m voting to confirm Judge Garland because of his long reputation as a straight shooter and a legal expert.
“His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream. Let’s hope our incoming attorney general applies that no-nonsense approach to the serious challenges facing the Department of Justice and our nation,” McConnell said.
Another Republican who played a leading role in Garland not getting on the Supreme Courtm Sen. Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, also voted in his favor this time.