Five years after he was bestowed an ill-fated nomination to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland was tapped by Joe Biden on Thursday to be the next man to lead the Department of Justice. The nomination, which took an unusually long time by presidential transition standards, will see Garland give up what would have been a lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C.
“Our first-rate nominees to lead the Justice Department are eminently qualified, embody character and judgment that is beyond reproach, and have devoted their careers to serving the American people with honor and integrity,” Biden said in a statement. “They will restore the independence of the Department so it serves the interests of the people not a presidency, rebuild public trust in the rule of law, and work tirelessly to ensure a more fair and equitable justice system.
“They are among the most accomplished legal minds in our country who also reflect the best of America’s full range of talents and background,” Biden continued. “I am honored they accepted this call to serve at such a critical time in our nation’s history.”
Unlike in 2016, when he was denied confirmation hearings for his nomination to the Supreme Court, Garland’s confirmation to become attorney general is all but a foregone conclusion. For one thing, Georgia’s runoff elections secured a Democratic majority for the Senate. For another, several prominent Republican senators – Lindsey Graham, Mitch McConnell, Mike Lee, and Susan Collins – are on record supporting Garland for federal office to one degree or another.
While there’s no mistaking Garland’s judiciary history for one of a constitutional conservative, he is far from the worst choice Biden could have made for that position. Indeed, there are many episodes in Garland’s career that he “disappointed progressives” (as the New York Times puts it) with rulings that put greater emphasis on the First Amendment and the importance of national security than on, say, the zeal to punish SuperPACs or the rights of terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Hopefully, this balanced approach will make him a far less “woke” attorney general than progressive groups (and people like Al Sharpton) wanted Biden to nominate.
There will be a lot of pressure in the coming months for the Biden DOJ to bring spurious charges against President Trump and others on the right as some sort of misguided “payback” for the last four years. If Biden and Garland are truly interested in moving this country forward in a way that doesn’t deepen divisions, they will resist that pressure with everything they have.