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Garland moves down path to attorney general confirmation hearing

Senate Judiciary could announce date for confirmation hearing as soon as this week

Merrick Garland, then a Supreme Court nominee, meets with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Capitol Hill in May 2016.
Merrick Garland, then a Supreme Court nominee, meets with Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Capitol Hill in May 2016. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s pick for attorney general, has updated his professional history: He picked up an honorary degree from Georgetown University Law Center in 2018; his seven-year stint as the chief judge of the federal appeals court in Washington ended in 2020; he now has tutored elementary students for 21 years.

By and large, the Garland who gave the Senate Judiciary Committee paperwork on Thursday for his bid to run the Justice Department is the same widely respected lawyer who Senate Republicans blocked from even getting a hearing to be a Supreme Court justice five years ago.

The committee’s questionnaire for the attorney general spot is slightly different than for Supreme Court justice, but the process is expected to be totally different and Garland appears on track to get a hearing and win confirmation this time around.

In 2016, Garland’s much-heralded career was overshadowed politically when President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court and Senate Republicans cited the upcoming presidential election to block his confirmation for more than eight months without holding a hearing.

This time, incoming committee chairman Sen. Richard J. Durbin has said a confirmation hearing will be announced as soon as this week for a spot known as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

“Judge Garland is well-prepared to restore the integrity of the Department of Justice after four years of unprecedented politicization by the Trump Administration,” the Illinois Democrat said in a statement after a virtual meeting with Garland last week.

Garland, a well-respected and even-keeled former terrorism prosecutor, has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997.

On this latest version of the committee questionnaire, Garland also lists new public speeches he’s made. The first is his remarks on Biden nominating him to be attorney general.

“I have loved being a judge,” Garland said in those Jan. 7 comments. “But to serve as attorney general at this critical time, to lead the more than 113,000 dedicated men and women who work at the department to ensure the role of law, is a calling I am honored and eager to answer.”

The Justice Department oversees the nation’s immigration courts, can investigate civil rights violations at local law enforcement agencies or in voting laws, and can scrutinize business mergers in technology, health care and other industries.

The department under the Biden administration could quickly reverse Trump-era policies in those areas and others, including ongoing litigation on fights about congressional oversight, as well as the criminal prosecution for everything from drug traffickers to white-collar criminals.

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