Updated Jan 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Biden picks Merrick Garland for attorney general

Joe Biden touches Merrick Garland on the shoulder after President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016.
Joe Biden touches Merrick Garland after President Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in March 2016. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden announced Judge Merrick Garland as his pick for attorney general on Thursday, seeking to place in the nation's top law enforcement job a respected federal appeals judge whose Supreme Court nomination Republicans blocked five years ago.

Why it matters: News of the selection, first reported by Politico, came just hours after the country learned that Democrats would likely win both Senate runoff elections in Georgia and take control of the Senate, making it harder for Republicans to block nominations.

  • That applies not just to the attorney general nominee himself, but also whomever Biden nominates to replace Garland as an appellate judge in a crucial circuit.
  • A possible candidate for any vacancy on the circuit court is D.C. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The big picture: Biden also announced Lisa Monaco to serve as deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

  • Monaco served as assistant attorney general for national security in the Obama administration, as well as the White House homeland security and counterterrorism advisor.
  • Gupta is also a DOJ veteran, having served as acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division.
  • Clarke also has DOJ experience, and served as head of the civil rights bureau for the New York State attorney general’s office.

Between the lines: By selecting Garland, Biden is sending a message about fairness and redemption, after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell denied hearings for President Obama's pick to replace the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

  • It's unclear whether McConnell and his fellow Republicans will fight this nomination, but McConnell is on-record saying Garland would make a good FBI director, calling him "an apolitical professional" in 2017.
  • Speculation and jockeying for AG also focused on other contenders, including former Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama and former deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
  • In settling on Garland, Biden hopes to restore the integrity and independence in DOJ's leadership that Democrats feel the department lost under the Trump administration.

Background: Garland, 68, is a Chicago native and graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School.

  • He served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997.
  • Before that, he supervised high-profile cases of domestic terrorism, including the Oklahoma City bombing and Unabomber cases in the 1990s. That experience could be useful to him following a Department of Homeland Security assessment this year that violent while supremacy is the most persistent lethal domestic threat.
  • McConnell never explicitly said he opposed Garland's appointment to the Supreme Court, only that Democrats should not get to fill the seat in the final year of Obama's presidency when Republicans controlled the Senate.
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