Merrick Garland Confirmed as Biden’s Attorney General

Senators confirmed the former D.C. Circuit judge to lead the Justice Department with a 70-30 vote. 

Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s pick to be attorney general, answers questions during his confirmation hearing on Feb. 22, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Judge Merrick Garland was confirmed as U.S. attorney general by the Senate on Wednesday, clearing the last hurdle of his nomination process in a 70-30 vote.

The former D.C. Circuit judge will oversee the Department of Justice in cooperation with the Biden administration. 

Garland was nominated by President Joe Biden on Jan. 6, and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a two-day confirmation hearing starting on Feb. 22. 

Tuesday’s vote is a major victory for both Garland and Biden after his last highly publicized presidential appointment. In 2016, President Barack Obama nominated the judge to fill a Supreme Court seat left vacant by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked the appointment on the grounds that the next president should fill any open seats. 

“It seems clear that President Obama made this nomination not with the intent of seeing the nominee confirmed but in order to politicize it for purposes of the election,” McConnell said at the time, “which is the type of thing then-Senate Judiciary Chairman Biden was concerned about.” 

But four years later, McConnell pushed through Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination mere weeks before the 2020 election. 

Whatever partisanship McConnell was referring to seems to have evaporated: Both Republicans and Democrats have praised Garland for his commitment to remaining nonpartisan and his potential to depoliticize an agency recently used to serve as the president’s enforcement tool. 

Some Senate Republicans, like Chuck Grassley of Iowa, admitted their involvement in the obstruction.

“I admire Judge Garland’s public service,” he said. “Just because I disagree with anyone being nominated doesn’t mean I have to be disagreeable to the nominee.” 

But the judge still garnered bipartisan support. Several senators highlighted his experience overseeing the case against Timothy McVeigh for the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to show that he has experience fighting domestic terrorism.  

Senate Democrats asked Garland about how he would approach social issues like sexual harassment and police brutality if confirmed. In response, the judge explained that he doesn’t believe in defunding the police, but does believe in investing more funding into alternative resources like mental health initiatives. 

Garland was always expected to gain bipartisan support in the Senate. The Judiciary Committee moved his nomination forward to the full chamber with a 15-7 vote. 

Last Wednesday, Republican Senator Tom Cotton posted a series of tweets saying that he would slow down Garland’s confirmation because he “refused to answer basic questions” about the death penalty and gun rights. 

“Ensuring the Senate has time to debate these issues and get answers is the same thing that Senate Democrats did for Bill Barr,” he wrote. “We’re not going to have one standard for Trump’s nominees and another for Biden’s.” 

Cotton’s objections do not seem to have adversely affected Garland’s appointment. 

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