Why Merrick Garland deserves to become the new attorney general
There have been very few moments in American history when the role of attorney general, and the person filling that important post, has mattered more. Once Judge Merrick Garland is confirmed by the Senate as the next attorney general of the United States, he will be at the helm of the Justice Department which has been a political battlefield for four years.
Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his successor, Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department turned into little more than an arm of the White House, committed way less to upholding the rule of law than to advancing the interests of Donald Trump, his family, and his allies. It came as no surprise since after all, Barr had stated that he believed the attorney general to be the lawyer of the president and not of the country.
The record Barr wrote reflected that belief, as too many officials in senior roles cast aside the rule of law under his helm. Trump appointees for the Justice Department sidelined our career public servants, from lawyers to agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, limiting their crucial roles, overriding their judgments, disregarding their independent counsel, and even falsely accusing them of being members of the deep state.
The Justice Department under the last administration pushed policies of unimaginable harm to the American people and to our cherished values, from separating the thousands of infants and children from their migrant parents to prohibiting innocent Muslims from traveling to our shores and intervening for cases to protect the friends of the president to repeating baseless such lies about voter fraud ahead of the 2020 election.
The misdeeds of the previous Justice Department brought our country to the brink, and as we learned after the inauguration of Joe Biden, a senior Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, plotted with Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election and worked to oust other agency leaders who had refused to join in that effort. A warning on the mass resignation by Justice Department attorneys averted such last minute plans.
It is no overstatement to say the nomination of Garland is one of the most critical in modern history. But a restored and reformed Justice Department under his helm can and, I believe will, meet this moment. When Garland is confirmed, he along with the rest of this country must continue to grapple with the insurrectionist attacks on the Capitol. Garland will be in a critical position with a critical role. So as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, he will be tasked with the duty to investigate the events of that day, to prosecute those responsible, and to prevent future domestic terror attacks. I can think of no one better suited for this position.
In 1995, when Garland was a lawyer under the deputy attorney general, he led the investigation and prosecution in the Oklahoma City bombing. This was the largest domestic terrorism attack in modern American history, as over 160 people were killed, including more than a dozen children. Thanks to Garland leading the law enforcement response effort, the perpetrators were brought to justice. He successfully worked with the many state and federal agencies involved, and he made sure those families of the victims and the survivors played an important role. I am confident, given his time prosecuting domestic terrorism, that Garland is up to the task of making sure there is justice for the dire events last month at the Capitol.
But it does not end with domestic terrorism. There are many challenges ahead. The right to vote is under constant assault by those who wish to suppress the voices of communities of color. We have a criminal justice system in urgent need of reform. Too many people, whether because of race, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation, face inequality in their daily lives. The Justice Department has to confront these realities which threaten our democracy. I am confident that Garland can rebuild the reputation of the Justice Department, restore faith of the American people in the rule of law, and work hard to deliver justice for all.
Richard Durbin is the senior United States senator from Illinois who serves as the Democratic majority whip. You can find him online @SenatorDurbin.
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