In contrast to his reception as a Supreme Court nominee, Garland's nomination this time received broad bipartisan support, ending in a 70-30 vote

By Virginia Chamlee
March 11, 2021 12:19 PM
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Merrick Garland
Merrick Garland
| Credit: Alex Wong/Getty

More than four years after his Supreme Court nomination was blocked by Senate Republicans, Judge Merrick Garland was confirmed on Wednesday as the U.S. attorney general.

In 2016, Garland was nominated by then-President Barack Obama to fill a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. But in a highly unusual show of partisanship, that nomination was blocked by Senate Republicans who said it came too close to the next election and the American people should get to pick the president filling the seat. (Republicans reversed themselves, in the eyes of many, in filling late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's seat days before the 2020 election.)

This time around, Garland's nomination to run the Department of Justice received broad bipartisan support, ending in a 70-30 vote.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — who led the effort to block Garland's earlier nomination to the Supreme Court — was among those to vote yes on his pick as attorney general.

In a statement released before the vote, McConnell said his vote was due to Garland's "long reputation as a straight shooter and legal expert," adding, "His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream."

As the Associated Press reported, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lauded Garland's nomination ahead of Wednesday's vote, saying in a statement delivered from the Senate floor: "America can breathe a sigh of relief that we're finally going to have someone like Merrick Garland leading the Justice Department. Someone with integrity, independence, respect for the rule of law and credibility on both sides of the aisle."

As attorney general, Garland, 68, will oversee the DOJ investigation into the attempted coup on the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Donald Trump supporters on Jan. 6.

Questions about the events of that day dominated the first day of his confirmation hearings, with Garland saying the investigation would be his "first priority" and calling it a "heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy," Politico reported.

Garland has a history of handling cases of violent extremism, having led the Justice Department investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing case in 1995.

In 2013, he called that case the "most significant" of his career, according to The Washington Post.

In remarks delivered during his hearing in February, Garland, who is Jewish, choked up while discussing his intention to serve the country, which he likened to "paying back" America for taking in his family when they fled persecution.

"I come from a family where my grandparents fled anti-Semitism and persecution," he said, while holding back tears. "The country took us in and protected us. And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back — this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back."

President Joe Biden announced in January that Garland was his pick for the job, calling him a "man of impeccable integrity" and "one of the most respected jurists of our time" at a press conference from Wilmington, Delaware, at which Garland was in attendance.

In a speech then, Garland called his nomination a "kind of homecoming" to the Justice Department.

Garland served on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for more than two decades after being nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1997. He was the chief judge for seven years.

As he noted, he previously worked in the Department of Justice and was the deputy assistant attorney general for the criminal division and principal associate deputy attorney general.

CNN reported that Garland resigned from the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday.

At the January ceremony announcing his nomination for attorney general, Garland became emotional when discussing the DOJ's origins and touted the importance of "guaranteeing the independence of the department from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations, regulating communications with the White House, establishing guidelines for FBI investigations, ensuring respect for the professionalism of DOJ's lawyers and agents and setting out principles to guide the exercise of prosecutorial discretions."