President-elect Joe Biden will nominate U.S. Circuit Judge Merrick Garland to serve as the 86th attorney general of the United States, multiple media outlets reported early Wednesday afternoon.
According to the Associated Press, citing “two people familiar with the selection process,” Biden’s official announcement will be made on Thursday.
That report noted additional Department of Justice (DOJ) personnel decisions intended on filling out Garland’s would-be leadership team:
[F]ormer homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco [will be nominated] as deputy attorney general and former Justice Department civil rights chief Vanita Gupta [will be nominated] as associate attorney general. He will also name an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke, the founder of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group.
The elevation of Garland was widely praised by the Democratic Party faithful and many legal commentators–largely for symbolic reasons. Chief among the symbolism inherent in the selection is the desire to capitalize on a deep reservoir of national spite for outgoing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Many referred to the move as a “middle finger.”
I don’t know his politics well but I do think it’s a delightful middle finger to McConnell on this very historic day. https://t.co/CKa1nqG33Y
— joanna schroeder (@iproposethis) January 6, 2021
Garland currently serves as Chief Judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Then-president Barack Obama selected him to fill the U.S. Supreme Court left open by the 2016 death of legendary right-of-center justice Antonin Scalia–reasoning that the seasoned judge and former prosecutor was a judicial moderate and that Republicans who had formerly praised his centrist politics would eventually acquiesce to Garland filling Scalia’s seat. But it just wasn’t so.
Garland was denied the title of “Justice” by McConnell and his obstructionist GOP. Obama also steadfastly refused to roll the dice on a recess appointment and the ninth seat on the nation’s high court remained open for over a year–only being filled when President Donald Trump took office and the GOP majority confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch to take Scalia’s old seat in April 2017.
While the job change for Garland is widely seen as a (middle) finger in McConnell’s eye, the AP report suggests that considerations akin to Obama’s original thought processes also motivated Biden as he ultimately chose to elevate the judge over other potential high-profile attorney general nominees such as former acting attorney general Sally Yates and former Alabama senator Doug Jones.
“The people familiar with the process spoke on condition of anonymity,” the AP noted. “One said Biden regards Garland as an attorney general who can restore integrity to the Justice Department and as someone who, having served in the Justice Department under presidents of both political parties, will be respected by nonpartisan career staff.”
Non-partisan judicial reform advocacy group Fix the Court hailed Biden’s DOJ choices:
It’s a whole package!
An embarrassment of riches.
Missing but TK?
✔️ KBJ for CADC
✔️ LRK for SG
— Fix the Court (@FixTheCourt) January 6, 2021
Many legal experts, however, held their praise as they sought to understand how Garland’s moderate and prosecutorial background might augur for progressive priorities–real and perceived–in the forthcoming Biden administration.
I am also interested in knowing peoples’ thoughts on this. https://t.co/oyXJAmtxG6
— Aaron Reichlin-Melnick (@ReichlinMelnick) January 6, 2021
I’m curious what folks think about the optics of the Garland pick. Specifically:
Do his years as a judge make him seem less political than other possible AGs?
Or does the fact that he was denied a Senate confirmation process for SCOTUS make him seem more political? https://t.co/JvaH4rTds9
— Carissa Byrne Hessick (@CBHessick) January 6, 2021
Some Black progressives, however, were forthright in their disdain for the Garland pick:
The day after Black voters were instrumental in securing control of the Senate for Democrats, Biden announces that he is nominating someone to be attorney general that excused police and prosecutorial conduct while he was a judge.
Biden is clearly sending a message.
— Petty Is Praxis (@rtyson82) January 6, 2021
While many were left pondering and complaining about the man who will lead so-called “Main Justice,” Clarke–a progressive movement leader–potentially being in charge of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division was praised.
On Monday, Kristen Clarke announced a lawsuit against the Proud Boys stemming from the destruction of a Black Lives Matter banner at a historically Black DC church.
Today, Clarke was tapped as Biden’s pick for asst AG for civil rights. https://t.co/Sff0vYxzUQ
— Elana Schor (@eschor) January 6, 2021
Notably, the decision will also give the incoming administration an instant opportunity to fill a high-profile judicial vacancy should Garland be confirmed by the U.S. Senate–which is all but a fait accompli due to the fact that the Democratic Party is projected to gain control of the upper chamber in Georgia’s Senate runoff elections.
[Image via Brendan SmialowskiI/AFP/Getty Images]
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