March 12, 2021
The U.S. Senate voted 70-30 on March 11 to confirm Merrick Garland as the Biden Administration’s attorney general—putting a respected jurist and experienced former prosecutor in charge of a Justice Department poised to confront a rising threat of domestic extremism amid a nationwide reckoning on race and policing, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Mr. Garland, 68 years old, was hailed by both Democrats and Republicans as uniquely equipped to restore morale, stability and institutional integrity to a Justice Department roiled by political storms during the Trump Administration.
Twenty Republicans—led by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)—joined all 50 Senate Democrats in confirming Garland. As majority leader just before Trump’s term in office, McConnell had blocked President Barack Obama’s nomination of Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016.
Now minority leader, McConnell said in a statement before the vote: “I’m voting to confirm Judge Garland because of his long reputation as a straight shooter and legal expert. His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream.”
According to the Journal, Garland, who spent 24 years on the powerful U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was sworn in on Thursday. He has said he would combat extremist violence and make a first priority of an extensive federal investigation into the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
He has cited his own experience overseeing prosecutions into several major acts of domestic terrorism, including the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. A senior Justice Department official at the time, Garland was personally involved in the investigation, which he has said solidified for him the urgency and complexity of the domestic terror threat.
While the investigation into the January 6 attack is expected to continue largely unchanged under new leadership, Garland will oversee what is expected to be a dramatic shift in the Justice Department’s approach to a series of other issues—from civil-rights enforcement and police reform, to the use of the federal death penalty,and the level of discretion prosecutors have in charging crimes.
Garland said during his confirmation hearing that he would pursue strong enforcement of civil-rights laws—focusing on hate-crimes prosecutions, voting rights, and the equitable treatment of minorities in the criminal-justice system after last year’s nationwide Black Lives Matter protests.
He said he planned to address “the problem of mass incarceration” and signaled that his Justice Department would show leniency for some lower-level drug offenders, reversing Trump administration policy.
Garland also expressed deep skepticism about the use of the federal death penalty, which Trump officials revived after a nearly 20-year hiatus and President Joe Biden has said he would end.
Research contact: @WSJ