Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Tuesday, July 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Biden’s DOJ Picks Stir Controversy on Road to Confirmation

Three women are slated to serve top roles in the Department of Justice. Two of them have already faced conservative backlash.

Three women are slated to serve top roles in the Department of Justice. Two of them have already faced conservative backlash.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In a fairly mixed reception for President Joe Biden’s choices to fill the Department of Justice, only Judge Merrick Garland, his nominee for attorney general, has faced the least controversy so far. 

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance Garland’s nomination to the full Senate on Monday afternoon after a somewhat contentious confirmation hearing.

Though most senators praised the judge, often remarking on how much respect they have for him, Garland did see questions about culture wars and his commitment to nonpartisanship from a few Republicans trying to trip him up.

As he goes on to the full Senate, Garland is even expected even win over the man responsible for guttering his Supreme Court nomination in 2016, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Garland’s eventual second-in-command, Lisa Monaco, is another safe choice for Republicans this year. At the time of her nomination to deputy attorney general, she’d been a for 15-year veteran of the Justice Department — a tenure that included being the first woman to serve as assistant attorney general for national security. Monaco also worked under then-FBI Director Robert Mueller as his chief of staff and received the Attorney General’s Award for Exceptional Service as assistant U.S. attorney. 

Like Judge Garland, who helped prosecute Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, Monaco also has experience fighting extremist violence: She served as President Barack Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser from 2013 to 2017. This experience led Biden to tap the attorney for a temporary task force on inauguration security a week after the Capitol siege. 

But Biden’s other nominees have faced mounting scrutiny from far-right organizations about their past advocacy. 

His nominee for associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, became the focus of a smear campaign by multiple far-right advocacy groups. Gupta had an extensive career in civil rights work. At the time of her nomination, she worked as the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and before that she served as acting assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 2014 to 2017.  

If confirmed, Gupta would be the first Justice Department official since Thurgood Marshall to serve a top role from the civil rights sector, as opposed to prosecuting or corporate law. 

But detractors say that her past work makes her unfit to serve in a nonpartisan role. In February, the Judicial Crisis Network launched an attack ad on Gupta that called her a “Dangerous Appointee.” In addition to claiming that she supported defunding the police, the ad said Gupta wants to “reduce punishments on white supremacists” and “let convicts out of jail.” 

Another Biden nominee to face backlash from right-wing politicians and media outlets is Kristen Clarke, a lawyer tapped to lead the Civil Rights Division. She would be the first Black woman to do so if confirmed.

During Garland’s confirmation hearing, however, Republican Senator Mike Lee accused Clarke of anti-Semitism, and Fox News said she had declared that Black Americans are “superior” to people of other races.  

Both accusations stem from Clarke’s responses in 1994 to what was is considered the flagship modern work reporting on racial differences in IQ scores. 

In a letter to the Harvard Crimson, the 19-year-old Clarke and a co-author denounced “The Bell Curve” by Charles Murray and those who support it. As Clarke later recalled, Murray and his co-author Richard Herrnstein used statistics about Black physical and mental development in order to “[fight] one ridiculous absurd racist theory with another ridiculous absurd theory.”

Clarke at the time led the Harvard Black Students Association, which hosted a lecture rebuking the book that year by Wellesley College professor Tony Martin. The year before, Martin for pushing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. 

Progressive activists and police chiefs alike have supported Biden’s nominations to the Justice Department, but they may face trouble before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where at least one of them has already faced skepticism. 

Categories / Civil Rights, Government, Politics

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.