(CN) — President-elect Joe Biden will select U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland — blocked from the Supreme Court by the GOP during the final year of the Barack Obama administration — to be the nation’s attorney general.
Garland’s anticipated selection, first reported by multiple outlets, reflects the shifting dynamic in the U.S. Senate after both Democratic candidates in Georgia prevailed in their runoff races — handing the Democrats control of both houses.
A GOP win in Georgia would likely have forced Biden to nominate a candidate more palatable to Republican senators. With the Senate a 50-50 tie — and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker — Biden is free to select his cabinet with little interference by Senate Republicans.
Garland would have been a non-starter with Republican senators given the controversy over his 2016 Supreme Court nomination. President Barack Obama nominated Garland, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel sat on the nomination for nearly a year.
Then Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, nominated U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch shortly after Inauguration Day, and Gorsuch took the seat on the high court bench.
Garland’s nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Justice will be a constant reminder to Republicans about 2016, which Democrats complained deviated from constitutional norms and was an example of partisan acrimony. McConnell did the opposite in 2020 when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and he pushed through the nomination of U.S. Circuit Judge Amy Coney Barrett days before the November election.
Garland, who currently serves as a judge on the D.C. Circuit, faces the monumental task of turning around a Justice Department that has been politicized by Trump to a degree not seen in decades.
A moderate who has garnered respect from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, Garland will face several challenges upon assuming office. Probably the largest question will be whether to pursue criminal investigations into Trump’s business dealings, as prosecutors continue their quest to examine the outgoing president’s tax returns.
Other questions regarding civil rights issues, police violence, and the tax investigation of Biden’s son Hunter will be other pressing questions Garland will have to tackle almost immediately.
Biden’s choice is several weeks in the making, as questions mounted about the nature of the selection and the reasons for the delay. Those reasons became clearer Wednesday, as Biden likely wanted to see the results of the Georgia runoff election before making a final decision.
Sally Yates, Obama’s deputy attorney general and — for 10 days until Trump fired her for insubordination — a former acting attorney general, was another candidate. Biden reportedly also considered former Alabama Senator Doug Jones and Deval Patrick, the former governor of Massachusetts who briefly ran in the race for the White House alongside Biden and Harris.
Biden will also nominate Lisa Monaco, a former Obama adviser, as deputy attorney general; Vanita Gupta, the head of the department’s civil rights division under Obama, as the Justice Department’s No. 3; and Kristen Clarke, a civil rights lawyer, as assistant attorney general for civil rights.
Civil rights is expected to be a major focus of the Biden administration.
Garland’s open seat on the D.C. Circuit will also allow Biden to nominate a younger, more liberal jurist to the influential seat. Progressive activists, particularly those concerned with police violence in minority communities, have not always been pleased with Garland’s rulings which some perceive as deferential to government interests.
However, Garland’s moderate stances may give him credibility with lawmakers on the Republican side of the aisle.
Garland is an experienced federal prosecutor who helped lead the investigation into former D.C. Mayor Marion Berry’s cocaine possession scandal. He also helped the Justice Department investigate and prosecute cases involving domestic terrorism, including the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber.
President Bill Clinton appointed him to the D.C. Circuit in 1995.