Americas

US Senate confirms Merrick Garland as attorney general

Newest attorney general faces huge immediate test: the Capitol riot

Andy Roesgen   | 11.03.2021
US Senate confirms Merrick Garland as attorney general

WISCONSIN, United States 

Merrick Garland, who was famously denied a possible spot on the US Supreme Court in 2016, now has one of the biggest roles in government: attorney general. 

Garland was confirmed Wednesday by a 70 to 30 vote in the US Senate, with mostly bipartisan support from Democrats and Republicans.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he voted in support of Garland because of his "long reputation as a straight shooter and legal expert."

But McConnell, who was the Senate Majority leader in 2016, blocked Garland's confirmation process to the US Supreme Court at the time. Then-President Barack Obama had nominated Garland for the post, but McConnell argued that the Senate should wait on confirming a new justice until after a new president was elected later in the year. Donald Trump's win doomed Garland's fate, and in 2020, McConnell shepherded the nomination of Trump-appointed nominee Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court in far less time.

But this year, President Joe Biden nominated Garland for attorney general, the nation's top law enforcement role.

Garland's experience in the judiciary runs deep: he has been a lawyer and a federal judge.

The 68-year-old native of Chicago and a Harvard Law graduate first came into prominence overseeing the prosecution of the notorious Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995, as a member of President Bill Clinton's Justice Department. Some 168 people were killed in an explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Garland secured the conviction of an anti-government former military member, Timothy McVeigh, and an accomplice, Terry Nichols.

Critics on the left have suggested that Garland has too often sided with law enforcement, but in the Oklahoma City bombing case, he was praised for his ability to oversee a sprawling FBI investigation that fanned out across the country.

And now he finds himself about to oversee a similar anti-government investigation: the attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6. There have been over 300 arrests so far, and some have said that Garland should also investigate Trump's role in instigating the riot. McConnell himself suggested it after the Senate voted to acquit Trump on a riot-related impeachment charge in February, saying Trump "didn't get away with anything, yet...yet."

McConnell said he has discussed that investigation with Garland and that law enforcement "needs to continue the work of identifying, arresting and prosecuting those who broke the law."

But McConnell also says he wants Garland to treat the "political violence" of the Left "with equal seriousness."

Garland will also have to decide whether to launch a politically-charged investigation into President Biden's son, Hunter, over accusations of tax and money laundering issues involving a foreign country. Garland said he has not spoken to President Biden about that topic.

And Garland will also have to decide how deeply his Justice Department will wade into both the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and into the origins of that investigation, which Republicans believe was politically motivated by Democrats.

But Garland made clear his biggest concern during his confirmation process: domestic terrorism.

His most pressing task, he said, would be to oversee "the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6...a heinous attack that sought to disrupt the cornerstone of our democracy."

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