President-elect Joe Biden picked Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge who in 2016 was snubbed by Republicans for a Supreme Court seat, as his attorney general, two people familiar with the process said Wednesday Selection.
In choosing Garland, Biden turns to an experienced judge who held senior positions in the Justice Department decades ago, including as prosecution supervisor for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The choice will force Senate Republicans to fight the nomination of someone they rejected in 2016 – even refusing to hold Supreme Court vacancies – but Biden can bank on Garland’s credentials and its reputation for moderation to ensure confirmation.
Biden is expected to announce the appointment of Garland on Thursday, along with other senior officials in the department, including former Homeland Security Advisor Lisa Monaco as Deputy Attorney General and former Justice Department Civil Rights chief Vanita Gupta as Associate Attorney General. He will also appoint an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke, chair of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group.
Garland was selected from other finalists, including Alabama Senator Doug Jones and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. Those familiar with the process spoke on condition of anonymity. One of them said Biden viewed Garland as an attorney general capable of restoring the integrity of the Justice Department and someone who, having served in the Justice Department under the chairmen of both political parties, will be respected by non-partisan career staff.
If confirmed, Garland would face immediate challenges, including an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, as well as calls from many Democrats to continue investigations into Trump after he leaves. A special advocate investigation into the origins of the Russia investigation also remains open, forcing a new attorney general to decide how to handle it and what to make public.
Garland would also inherit a Justice Department that endured four tumultuous years and would likely have to focus not only on civil rights issues and overhauling national police policies after months of mass protests against black deaths. Americans in the hands of the police. .
It was unclear how Garland’s selection would be received by black and Latino lawyers who had argued for a black attorney general or someone with experience in civil rights cases and criminal justice reform. But the selection of Gupta and Clarke, two women with significant civil rights experience, seemed designed to blunt those concerns and was offered as a signal that progressive causes will take priority in the new administration.
Garland would also return to a dramatically different Justice Department than the one he left. The September 11 attacks were years away, the department’s national security division had yet to be established, and a proliferation of aggressive cyber-espionage and counter-espionage threats from foreign adversaries had resulted in countries like China, Russia and North Korea the top priorities for federal law enforcement.
Monaco brings significant national security experience to the department, including cybersecurity – an issue of particular urgency as the U.S. government faces a devastating hack into federal agencies that officials have linked to Russia.
But some of the problems with Garland’s first visit to the department persist. Tensions between police and minorities, an issue that erupted after Rodney King’s beating in Los Angeles in 1992, remains a pressing concern, especially after a summer of racial unrest that rocked American cities after the murder by George Floyd in Minneapolis in May.
And the FBI has faced an outbreak of violent anti-government and racist extremists. It’s a familiar threat to Garland, who as a senior Justice Department official in 1995 helped manage the federal government’s response to the bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. The bomber, Timothy McVeigh, who was subsequently executed.
Garland called the job “the most important thing I have done” and was known to have kept a framed photo of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in his justice office in Washington.
At the time of the bombing, Garland was 42 years old and was a Senior Assistant Deputy Attorney General, Lieutenant to Attorney General Janet Reno. He was chosen to travel to Oklahoma City, the Justice Department’s top official, and led the prosecution for a month until a permanent senior prosecutor was appointed.
Garland was selected from other candidates for the post, including former Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who lost his Senate seat last month, and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
It is rare, but not unprecedented, that attorneys general have previously served as judges. This happened in 2007 when President George W. Bush chose Michael Mukasey, a former Manhattan federal judge, for the job. Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, had also served as a Superior Court judge.
Garland was nominated by former President Barack Obama for a Supreme Court seat in 2016 following the death of Judge Antonin Scalia, but Republicans refused to hold hearings in Obama’s final year in office . The post was then filled by Judge Neil Gorsuch during the Trump administration.
Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to let the nomination advance to the Senate in the final months of Obama’s tenure. He was criticized by Democrats this fall when he took the opposite approach to upholding President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court choice Amy Coney Barrett. He said the difference this time around was that the White House and the Senate were controlled by the same political parties.
A year later, following the sacking of FBI Director James Comey, McConnell actually floated Garland’s name as a replacement for that position, although Garland was not interested.
Garland has served on the Washington Federal Court of Appeal since 1997. Previously, he had worked in private practice, as well as as a federal prosecutor, a senior official in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, and as a Senior Assistant Attorney General.
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