Garland to stress law enforcement experience at confirmation hearing

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President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, plans to kick off his pitch to senators at his confirmation hearing Monday by highlighting his career as a prosecutor before taking the bench and by emphasizing his commitment to civil rights, according to his prepared opening statement.

“If I am confirmed, serving as Attorney General will be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, and that the rights of all Americans are protected,” Garland plans to say in the statement, released publicly on Saturday night.

Garland, who is currently a judge on the powerful D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, supervised the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings that led to the convictions of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols.

In his opening statement, Garland will pledge to oversee the prosecution of the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 and will describe the insurrection as a “heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”

While the Biden administration is clearly eager to showcase Garland’s law-enforcement credentials, officials are also trying to be mindful of the racial-justice protests that erupted last year and of renewed activism against police abuse. The judge plans to declare that enforcing civil rights laws is central to the Justice Department, according to the prepared text.

“That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice,” Garland is to say. “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.”

Parts of Garland’s statement seem intended to assuage concerns among Republicans protesting abuses in the surveillance process brought to light in the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, while other portions sound like not-so-veiled criticism of the way the Justice Department operated under former President Donald Trump.

Garland will vow to enforce “policies that protect the independence of the Department from partisan influence in law enforcement Investigations” and those “that establish guidelines for FBI domestic operations and foreign intelligence collection.”

There are also shout-outs for decent treatment of the press, more generous disclosure of government records under the Freedom of Information Act and for a respectful approach toward DOJ’s career staff. The latter mention seems like a retort of sorts to Attorney General William Barr’s comments last year that many in the Justice Department viewed as belittling career prosecutors.

Biden introduced Garland as his pick to lead the Justice Department on Jan. 7. While Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) sought to move quickly on the nomination, the makeup of the Senate committees remained in limbo for weeks while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) worked out an organizing resolution for governing the evenly split chamber.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, reached an agreement with Durbin earlier this month to make an exception to the committee’s 28-day time frame between receiving a nominee’s paperwork and holding a hearing. Garland’s committee vote is scheduled for March 1.

Even though Senate Republicans blocked Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016, several GOP lawmakers have made positive comments about the judge and he is expected to receive broad bipartisan support for attorney general.

The Justice Department also released endorsements of Garland on Saturday from civil rights groups and from police organizations. While the letters backing Garland from liberal racial-justice advocates were widely expected, some of the pledges of support from law enforcement were more surprising, although many in that community enjoy longtime ties to Biden.

Among those putting their weight behind Garland is the Fraternal Order of Police, which endorsed Donald Trump in 2016 and last year.

“Throughout his tenure as a Federal prosecutor and a Federal judge, Judge Garland has demonstrated a keen legal mind, a reputation for fairness and honesty, and a respect for law enforcement officers,” FOP president Patrick Yoes wrote. “While we anticipate that we may have some serious disagreements on certain issues, based on his character and dedication to public service and law enforcement, we are cautious, but hopeful, that we will be able to build a working relationship with Judge Garland, should he be confirmed.”

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