The U.S. Senate confirmed President Biden’s nominee Merrick Garland as Attorney General 70-30 on Wednesday, five years after he was denied a position on the Supreme Court as former President Barack Obama’s nominee.
Garland, who most recently served as U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, takes over a Justice Department whose first priority will likely be prosecuting insurrectionists who invaded the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. But as the nation’s top law enforcement officer, he will also be closely watched for what he does on issues of protecting civil rights, police reform and other issues pertinent to communities of color. Here are five things to know about the new Attorney General.
Many activists say the Trump administration severely damaged the Civil Rights Division and Garland has pledged to turn that part of the agency around. “Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing, education, employment, and the criminal justice system; and bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change,” he said in a statement prior to the beginning of his confirmation hearing, according to Reuters.
Hundreds of people have been arrested in the deadly incident that killed five people, many of them had links to racist and extremist groups, who deny that Trump lost the 2020 election. But Garland says that their cases will be an immediate priority with him. "If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government."
Garland is mostly discussed for being part of the Washington D.C. judicial environment, but in 1995, when he was a federal prosecutor, he took on prosecuting those responsible for the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. He did not directly prosecute the two defendants, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, but he helped select the trial team and supervised from Washington.
He was also involved in the decision to seek the death penalty for both men, who were eventually convicted. McVeigh was executed in 2001. Nichols was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
During his confirmation hearing, Garland has said that he was concerned about the disproportionate effect capital punishment has had in the Black community, given the number of DNA exonerations that have taken place.
"The data is clear that it has had an enormously disparate impact on Black Americans and members of communities of color, and exonerations also that something like half of the exonerations had to do with Black men. So all of this has given me pause," he said.
Garland was nominated for the Suprem Court by Obama to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016, believing that the moderate would be more difficult for Republicans to reject since he had had bipartisan praise for years. But then-senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said from the outset that he would not consider an Obama nominee for the High Court, effectively blocking him. But he now supports Garland’s nomination as Attorney General.
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