The Senate confirmed Judge Merrick Garland as attorney general Wednesday, approving a key Biden appointment and bringing Garland full circle from five years ago, when the GOP Senate refused to take up his nomination to the Supreme Court under President Obama.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who devised the 2016 blockade that kept Garland off of the Supreme Court — was among the 20 Republicans who voted in favor of his confirmation as attorney general.
Garland will take over the Justice Department at a particularly challenging time. Under the Trump administration, the department was plagued by politicization, with Attorney General Bill Barr intervening in the high-profile cases federal prosecutors brought against Trump allies.
Now the department is in the midst of an unprecedented investigation into the insurrection that stormed Congress on Jan. 6. More than 300 individuals have been charged for conduct related to the riot, DOJ officials said on a call last month. The department will reportedly need to consider how to go about the more complicated aspects of the investigation, including whether to pursue charges against the mob’s organizers and others who facilitated it.
The Biden administration has signaled that the department’s broader response to the rise in white supremacist groups, anti-government extremism and hate crimes will be a more prominent focus than it was under the last administration.
Additionally Garland and the other top officials Biden has nominated for leadership position have previewed a more muscular enforcement of civil rights laws, many of which were neglected during the Trump era.
Garland sailed through his confirmation hearing last month, though the overall confirmation schedule for top Biden nominees was slowed down by the Senate impeachment trial against former President Trump as well as the COVID-19 relief bill the Senate passed last weekend.
Senate Republicans have praised Garland — who, before joining powerful federal appeals court in D.C., served as a top DOJ prosecutor most well-known for his work on the Oklahoma City bombing — and said their refusal to consider him as a justice was not based on his personal credentials.
Other Biden DOJ picks are likely to face more turbulence in the confirmation process. Lisa Monaco, Biden’s nominee for deputy attorney general, received little GOP fire at her confirmation hearing on Tuesday. But Biden’s choice for associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, who testified alongside Monaco, was the target of Republican ire. It’s unclear whether Republicans’ objections to Gupta will be enough to sway the Senate’s Democratic centrists against her nomination.