‘I don’t care who pressures me in any direction:’ Merrick Garland is the right person to lead the Department of Justice

James Dobson, Contributing Writer

The Senate will soon vote whether Merrick Garland, a United States circuit judge for the District of Columbia, will become the next U.S. attorney general. Garland has the experience and skill to make an effective and consequential leader of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

In 2016, Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court. Former President Barack Obama picked him as the replacement to Justice Antonin Scalia. The reasons for this were clear — the American Bar Association unanimously gave Garland a “well-qualified” rating, the highest that the committee could give. Additionally, Garland had more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nomination in history.

However, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider this nomination. In an unprecedented move, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not hold a vote on Garland to fill the vacant seat. As a result, Garland’s nomination eventually expired after 293 days without a vote being held. Eventually, this vacant seat would go on to be filled by Neil Gorsuch during former President Donald Trump’s administration after 422 days of being vacant.

Merrick Garland’s emphasis on non-partisan judgement is a refreshing and needed change as the attorney general. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Not holding a vote on a Supreme Court nominee to fill a vacant seat was an abuse of constitutional norms and many legal scholars and political scientists alike decried this action. Refusing to even consider a qualified candidate like Garland speaks to the issue of partisanship in government. Nonetheless, there was nothing legally forcing McConnell to hold the vote, so the empty Supreme Court seat remained vacant up until Trump’s presidency.

Garland had also been considered for the Supreme Court on two separate occasions before his nomination. In 2009, he was one of the top picks to fill Justice David Souter’s seat, but the nomination ended up going to Sonia Sotomayor, who was a sitting judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Again, in 2010, he was a leading contender to replace Justice Paul Stevens, but the nomination was given to Justice Elena Kagan.

You can’t keep a good man down forever. Though Garland did not ever become a Supreme Court justice, President Joe Biden has recently nominated Garland to become the next attorney general. His confirmation hearing began last week, with Garland testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee to make his case on why he should get their vote to be confirmed to the position.

During the hearing, the nominee gave a vow to keep politics out of the DOJ, which is vital for the attorney general to do.

“I don’t care who pressures me in any direction,” Garland said. “The Department, if I am confirmed, will be under my protection for the purpose of preventing any kind of partisan or other improper motive in making any kind of investigation or prosecution. That’s my vow. That’s the only reason I’m willing to do this job.”

Keeping personal politics aside would be a breath of fresh air for the DOJ if Garland is serious about doing so. His predecessor, William Barr, showed his partisanship in multiple instances, such as by meddling in the criminal prosecutions of Trump allies, approving unusual maneuvers by the DOJ against political foes and working to undo many of the conclusions of the Mueller investigation. Meanwhile, Garland can provide the nonpartisan balance that is needed when it comes to the justice department — which would be most welcome in a country that is so divided.

He also said during his general confirmation hearing that one of his big focuses would be taking on systemic racism in the justice system, something that Barr did not consider an important issue, let alone an issue at all.

“I think it is plain to me that there is discrimination and widespread disparate treatment of communities of color and other ethnic minorities in this country,” Garland said. “They have a disproportionately lower employment, disproportionately lower home ownership rates, disproportionately lower ability to accumulate wealth … (there) is no question there is disparate treatment in our justice system. Mass incarceration is a very good example of this problem.”

The confirmation vote is going to happen soon, and when it does, Garland is expected to get the votes he needs for a confirmation. So far, he’s seen a good amount of bipartisan support from both parties. Prominent Republican senators such as Ted Cruz, Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn have also spoken positively about Garland and his qualifications for the job during the confirmation hearings thus far. Even McConnell, who had blocked his Supreme Court vote, has said that he plans to back Garland.

If confirmed, Garland will be in charge of leading the justice department. And it’s a critical time for the DOJ. The department is currently taking on a number of important issues, including the Jan. 6, storming of the United States Capitol. There is no better candidate to take on the job at this pivotal time.