Biden will nominate appeals-court judge Merrick Garland to be attorney general

Merrick Garland
Judge Merrick Garland.
  • President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Judge Merrick Garland as his attorney general, Politico and The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
  • Garland has been a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, since 1997, and he began his legal career at the Justice Department under President Jimmy Carter in the 1970s.
  • Garland came into the national spotlight in March 2016 when President Barack Obama nominated him to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But his nomination was scuttled after Republicans stonewalled it.
  • Getting Garland confirmed as attorney general is likely to be easier for Biden, given that Democrats are poised to effectively control the Senate following the two Georgia runoff elections this week.
  • See who's in play for Biden's remaining Cabinet positions.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Judge Merrick Garland to be his attorney general, Politico and The Associated Press reported on Wednesday.

The news is a remarkable development for the jurist, whose 2016 nomination to the Supreme Court was blocked by Senate Republicans. This time, getting him confirmed as the attorney general - and nominating a judge to replace him on the bench - is likely be easier for Biden, given that Democrats are poised to effectively control the Senate following the two hotly contested runoff elections in Georgia this week.

Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are both projected to lose to their Democratic challengers, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, according to Decision Desk HQ. That will result in a 50-50 split in the Senate, with incoming Vice President Kamala Harris as the tie-breaking vote.

Garland, 68, has been a judge on the US Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, since 1997. He began his professional career at the Justice Department in the 1970s under President Jimmy Carter and is widely respected in the legal community.

Before becoming a federal judge, Garland oversaw the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured nearly 700 other people.

In March 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Garland to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Aware of the deterioration of Senate legislative comity, Obama asked that Garland's nomination be removed from the politics of the moment.

"I simply ask Republicans in the Senate to give him a fair hearing, and then an up-or-down vote," Obama said at the time. "If you don't, then it will not only be an abdication of the Senate's constitutional duty, it will indicate a process for nominating and confirming judges that is beyond repair."

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stonewalled Garland's nomination, left the seat empty, and said the winner of the 2016 general election should nominate Scalia's successor to "give the American people a voice."

Despite Garland's reputation as a centrist and his favorability among Republicans, most GOP lawmakers refused to even meet with him or give him a hearing because they believed Obama's successor should appoint the high court's next justice.

McConnell later boasted about the blockade. "One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy,'" he said in August 2016.

Garland stepped away from hearing active cases in the DC circuit court after his nomination but returned to the bench in January 2017, when President Donald Trump was sworn in.

Despite Garland's past issues with Senate confirmation, he represents a consensus choice for Biden that many Washington insiders would welcome, including some of the same senators who opposed his Supreme Court nomination.

Biden also considered former Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates to lead the Justice Department. This Cabinet pick is among Biden's most consequential given the political firestorm that's surrounded the US law-enforcement and intelligence apparatus under the Trump administration.

Trump often drew criticism for using the Justice Department as a shield for himself and a sword against his enemies. He once said he had the "absolute right to do what I want to do" with the department, leading to a breakdown in the institution's traditional independence from the White House. Trump's actions were frequently enabled by Attorney General William Barr, who took extraordinary measures while leading the department to protect all the president's men.

After winning the 2020 election, Biden pledged to restore the independence of and public trust in the Justice Department and US intelligence agencies. To that end, the president-elect said that he would not encourage investigations into Trump or other political opponents, but that he also would not stand in the way if the FBI or the Justice Department undertook them.

"I'm not going to be telling them what they have to do and don't have to do. I'm not going to be saying, 'Go prosecute A, B, or C,'" Biden told CNN in a recent interview, adding: "It's not my Justice Department. It's the people's Justice Department."

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