Mon, 08 Mar 2021

Five Takeaways from Merrick Garland's Confirmation Hearing

Voice of America
23 Feb 2021, 16:05 GMT+10

Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's nominee for attorney general, sat Monday for his first of two days of questioning by members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

If confirmed, the 68-year-old federal appellate judge and former nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, will serve as the nation's top law enforcement officer.

Here are five takeaways from Monday's confirmation hearing.

Capitol riot

Garland vowed to make an ongoing federal investigation into the January 6 U.S. Capitol siege his "first priority," calling the riot "the most heinous attack on the democratic processes."

The attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump, which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer, has led to one of the largest and most complex investigations in the Justice Department's history.

Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's pick to be attorney general, answers questions from Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., as... Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's pick to be attorney general, answers questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill, Feb. 22, 2021.

Garland told lawmakers that one of the first things he will do as attorney general is get a briefing on the FBI investigation and ensure prosecutors have the resources they need to do their job.

At the same time, he added, "I intend to make sure that we look more broadly, to look at where this is coming from, what other groups there might be that could raise the same problem in the future, and that we protect the American people."

The FBI has charged more than 250 people in connection with the attack and is investigating several hundred more. So far, roughly 30 are known to have ties to extremist groups.

A judge on the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia for the past 24 years, Garland has extensive domestic terrorism investigation experience. In the mid-1990s, he led the federal investigation of the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.

Civil rights

Garland said another top priority will be enforcing civil rights laws.

Noting that the Justice Department was founded in the aftermath of the Civil War to protect the civil rights guaranteed under three constitutional amendments, Garland said "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," he said in his opening statement.

Among other things, he said the Justice Department will hold police departments accountable by investigating misconduct and civil rights violations.

Under Trump, the Justice Department all but stopped carrying out such investigations.

Garland also said he "strongly supports" new legislation strengthening voting rights.

Death penalty

Asked whether he supports reinstating a 2003 moratorium on capital punishment, Garland said he was "very concerned" about the large number of people who were sentenced to death and later exonerated, and the disproportionate impact of the death penalty on people of color.

In a report released Thursday, the Death Penalty Information Center said 185 death row inmates were wrongfully convicted and later exonerated since the 1970s.

Biden is the first U.S. president to oppose the death penalty. Garland said that given Biden's opposition, it is "not at all unlikely that we will return to the previous" moratorium.

The Trump administration resumed capital punishment last year, executing an unprecedented 13 people during Trump's final six months in office.

People's lawyer

Attorney General William Barr speaks during a news conference, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020 at the Justice Department in Washington. ... FILE - Then-Attorney General William Barr, Dec. 21, 2020.

If confirmed, Garland will take the helm of the Justice Department at a time when morale has ebbed following the controversial tenure of Trump's second attorney general, William Barr. Democrats accused Barr of politicizing the department and serving as Trump's personal lawyer, an accusation Barr's defenders reject.

In his testimony, Garland stressed the importance of preserving the independence of the attorney general, saying he will "be the lawyer not for any individual but for the people of the United States."

Several Republicans sought Garland's reassurance that he would not allow politically motivated investigations of the administration's political enemies.

"Absolutely," Garland said in response to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's question.

Hunter Biden, Mueller probe

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2012, file photo, Hunter Biden waits for the start of the his father's, Vice President Joe Biden's,... FILE - Hunter Biden, Jan. 30, 2010.

Garland will inherit a pair of politically sensitive investigations: a tax fraud investigation of Biden's son Hunter, and a separate special counsel probe of the origins of the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump.

The Biden administration recently said that two Trump-appointed prosecutors leading those two investigations will stay on to complete their probes.

Garland said he had "no reason to think that was not the correct decision," but he declined to commit to not firing them without cause.

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