WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general says the Justice Department must ensure laws are “fairly and faithfully enforced” and the rights of all Americans are protected, while reaffirming an adherence to policies to protect the department’s political independence.
Judge Merrick Garland, who is set to appear Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, plans to tell senators that the attorney general must act as a lawyer for the people of the United States, not for the president. The Justice Department released a copy of Garland’s opening statement late Saturday.
If confirmed, Garland would inherit a Justice Department that endured a tumultuous time under President Donald Trump — rife with political drama and controversial decisions — and abundant criticism from Democrats over what they saw as the politicizing of the nation’s top law enforcement agencies.
“It is a fitting time to reaffirm that the role of the attorney general is to serve the Rule of Law and to ensure equal justice under the law,” Garland says in his prepared statement.
The previous attorney general, William Barr, had also sought to paint himself as an independent leader who would not bow to political pressure. But Democrats repeatedly accused Barr of acting more like Trump’s personal attorney than the attorney general. They pointed to a number of controversial decisions, including overruling career prosecutors to recommend a lower sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone and moving to dismiss the criminal case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn after he had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Barr resigned in late December, weeks after he told The Associated Press that the Justice Department had found no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, countering Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.
In his prepared remarks Garland, a federal appeals court judge who was snubbed by Republicans in 2016 for a seat on the Supreme Court, lays out his plan to prioritize the department’s civil rights work after the nationwide protests last year over the deaths of Black Americans by police. He highlights a key mission for the division: to protect the rights of all Americans and particularly the most vulnerable.
“That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice. 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,” Garland says.
Garland also addresses domestic terrorism and rising extremist threats, pointing to his prior work in the Justice Department supervising the prosecution following the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.
And as federal prosecutors continue to bring cases following the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, Garland calls the insurrection a “heinous attack that sought to distrust a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”
So far, the Justice Department has charged more than 200 people with federal crimes in connection with the riot, including members of extremist groups accused of conspiracy and other offenses.