Washington — Judge Merrick Garland, President Biden's nominee for attorney general, will sit before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing on Monday. In his opening statement, Garland says he will make civil rights, confronting "extremist attacks," and upholding the independence of the Department of Justice some of his top priorities.
"If I am confirmed, serving as Attorney General will be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, and that the rights of all Americans are protected," Garland will say, according to prepared remarks that were released Saturday.
After demonstrations protesting the deaths of African Americans at the hands of police and systemic racial injustice swept across the country last year, Garland will make clear the role the department plays in addressing civil rights matters, acknowledging "we do not yet have equal justice."
"Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change," Garland's statement says.
Monday's hearing comes five years after Senate Republicans blocked Garland's Supreme Court nomination without even granting him a confirmation hearing. Garland was nominated by former President Barack Obama to fill the seat previously occupied by the late-Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in 2016.
As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Garland will inherit the ongoing investigations into the rioters who took part in the Capitol insurrection on January 6. News of Mr. Biden's intention to nominate Garland broke on the same day as the deadly assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Garland is no stranger to extremist violence. He is known for earlier work at the Justice Department, where he oversaw the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and lone wolf bomber Ted Kaczynski, widely known as the "Unabomber."
"150 years after the department's founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to its mission," Garland's remarks say. "If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government."
At an event held the day after the Capitol riot to announce the nomination, Mr. Biden addressed Garland and other nominees for top Justice Department positions, saying, "You won't work for me. You are not the president or the vice president's lawyer.
"Your loyalty is not to me. It's to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation to guarantee justice," Mr. Biden added.
Garland will also oversee several ongoing politically sensitive investigations, such as the one looking into the "tax affairs" of Mr. Biden's son, Hunter Biden, as well as Special Counsel John Durham's probe into the origins of the 2016 Russia investigation.
However, in his prepared remarks, Garland makes clear that as attorney general, his job will be to uphold the "rule of law," and do so by "reaffirming... norms."
Garland will highlight the importance of existing policies that "protect the independence of the department from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations" and "strictly regulate communications with the White House."
Several Senate Judiciary Republicans said Wednesday they would press Garland during his confirmation hearing to commit to investigating COVID-19 nursing home deaths, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's controversial reporting of nursing home death totals in his state.
Garland's hearing is scheduled to take place Monday and Tuesday, and the committee will vote on whether to advance his nomination to the Senate floor on March 1.
On Friday, letters of support for his nomination were submitted to the committee from a bipartisan group of officials. The group included 61 former federal judges, as well as over 150 former U.S. attorneys and senior DOJ officials, including former Attorneys General Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch and Michael Mukasey.
"Judge Garland has dedicated much of his life to the American justice system," the letter read. "And we can unequivocally state that Judge Garland is the right person to ensure that the rule of law remains, in our national consciousness, one of our most deeply-held values."
Garland was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1997 by former President Bill Clinton and served as chief judge for seven years. Before he was a judge, he served within the ranks at the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division, and as principal associate deputy attorney general. He graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude in 1974 and Harvard Law School magna cum laude in 1977.