Block on Trump's Asylum Ban Upheld by Supreme Court
President-elect Joe Biden nominated a familiar name for U.S. Attorney General on Wednesday, January 6: Merrick Garland. A former prosecutor for the Department of Justice, Judge Garland has significant experience to bring to the role, including a stint as principal deputy associate attorney general beginning in the 1990s.
Judge Garland takes over a DOJ that has been criticized for being overtly political in recent years under William Barr. According to reports, morale at the department has also suffered, and there have been many high-profile resignations in recent years.
This is not the first time Judge Garland has been considered for a prominent federal role. In 2017, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell floated Garland's name for FBI director. This was after McConnell refused to conduct a hearing for Judge Garland's nomination to the Supreme Court.
After President-elect Biden's nomination, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted: “I believe Judge Garland would be a sound choice to be the next Attorney General. He is a man of great character, integrity, and tremendous competency in the law." Judge Garland has long been considered a respected and moderate jurist on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Garland's reputation as a centrist will be put to the test right away should he be confirmed as expected, as there are a number of politically sensitive investigations underway. For example, former Attorney General William Barr has appointed Special Counsel John Durham to investigate the FBI investigation of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign. There is also currently an investigation into Hunter Biden's taxes, although Trump's request to appoint a special investigator was ignored. An ongoing investigation into Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, is looking into his work and dealings in Ukraine.
A number of high-profile resignations have occurred recently at the Department of Justice. For example, all four of the prosecutors in the Roger Stone case resigned after interference from Barr. In defending his actions in that case and several others, William Barr said in a September, 2020 speech that “[l]etting the most junior members set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it's no way to run a federal agency" and that “[t]he most basic check on prosecutorial power is politics."
One of President-elect Biden's campaign promises included ending the politically charged atmosphere at the DOJ. “Any decision should be based on the law, should not be influenced by politics," Vice President-elect Kamala Harris told CNN about their pledge to not influence DOJ investigations.
With several Republican senators already expressing support, Garland's path to attorney general appears clear. Once appointed, however, the path forward becomes much murkier.