Profile, Biden’s Cabinet: Attorney General Merrick Garland

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Originally former President Barack Obama’s 2016 Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland is President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s pick for Attorney General. The former Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit was confirmed on March 10, with a 70-30 vote. As Attorney General, Garland will mainly advise the president and represent the U.S. in legal affairs. He will investigate former President Donald Trump and members of the Trump administration, the Russia scandal and Ukraine affair, the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, current Congress members, and the president’s son, as well as face other challenges, essentially entering a politicized Justice Department, which he will have to mend apolitically.

Throughout his career, the newly-confirmed AG has had a “moderate, case-by-case approach” when analyzing cases and providing dissents. Garland intends to restore Americans’ faith in the Justice Department and uphold the rule of law while deterring political interference. “The department’s priorities and messaging are expected to shift drastically in the Biden administration, with a focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls, and policing policies in the wake of nationwide protests over the death of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement,” according to the Associated Press.

Personal Life

Garland was born to small business owner Cyril Garland and community volunteer Shirley Garland on Nov. 13, 1952. He maintained a high academic standing throughout his educational course. A National Merit Scholar and a Presidential Scholar, Garland graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude.

Garland was interested in public service, and though he was initially planning on becoming a doctor, he later decided to attend Harvard Law School, which he paid for “by taking a summer job as a shoe store stock clerk, selling his comic book collection, and counseling undergraduates,” graduating magna cum laude. In his time in law school, he also served as an editor for the Harvard Law Review. He married Lynn Rosenman Garland in 1987; their daughters are Jessica and Rebecca Garland.

During his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Garland revealed that he “feel[s] an obligation to the country to pay back” since his grandparents found refuge in the U.S. after fleeing from anti-semitism.

Political Experience

A former law clerk, lawyer, and judge, Garland has held various government roles. After graduating from law school, he served clerkships under prominent conservative judge Henry Friendly and liberal-leaning Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.

Additionally, Garland worked as a Special Assistant to the Attorney General, after which he practiced corporate law as a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter, “focusing on litigation and pro bono representation of disadvantaged Americans.”

Garland has investigated cases involving public corruption, drug trafficking, and fraud as a federal prosecutor and served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

In his roles as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, Garland supervised the Oklahoma City bombing and the Unabomber case. “People who know Garland from his work in Oklahoma believe that the country could have no better ally in the fight against homegrown extremism, a broad job whose challenges include not only prosecuting the recent insurrectionists but also preventing the next attack, disrupting extremist groups on social media, rooting out white supremacists from police forces and the military, and restoring public trust in the rule of law,” according to The Guardian.

When he oversaw the mid-1990s Unabomber case, Garland “ask[ed] The Washington Post and The New York Times to agree to publish the Unabomber’s 35,000-word manifesto…That led to the arrest of Theodore Kaczynski after his brother recognized the writing style and alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

In 1995, Garland was nominated by former President Bill Clinton to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court; however, he wasn’t confirmed until 1997 when Clinton renominated him.

As a judge on the D.C. Circuit, Garland oversaw several notable cases, including cases concerning Guantanamo Bay detainees, during which he “largely deferred to the government’s arguments in preventing their access to the courts and their release – with one notable exception.”

Garland was considered to fill Supreme Court vacancies by Obama in 2009 and 2010. Although he was officially nominated in 2016 after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, his nomination was rejected, “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared any appointment by the sitting president to be null and void. He said the next Supreme Court justice should be chosen by the next president — to be elected later that year.”

Goals

At his Senate confirmation hearing on Feb. 22, Garland promised to “protect the independence of the department from partisan influence in law enforcement,” to uphold “the rule of law and to ensure equal justice under law.”

Garland also assured Senators that he wouldn’t be “the President’s lawyer” and nothing more “than the lawyer for the people of the United States,” a stark contrast to former AG William Barr, who allowed Trump to interfere in the Roger Stone Case and became “an eager accomplice in eroding norms meant to insulate the criminal justice system from political interference, threatening the bedrock principle of equality before the law.” After being left with a politicized DOJ by the prior administration, Garland has a lot of work cut out for him as the new AG. The well-respected judge plans on investigating the Capitol riots by following all leads and providing prosecutors with any resources they require, combatting domestic terrorism and systemic racism, and ensuring the Justice Department’s responsibilities in protecting Americans. “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 told Senators during his testimony.