The Senate on March 10 confirmed Merrick Garland as attorney general in a 70–30 vote, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in approving President Joe Biden’s pick.
The nomination came about five years after Garland’s failed nomination to the Supreme Court by then-President Barack Obama. At the time, the Senate, which was controlled by Republicans, denied Garland a hearing or a vote. Garland has served on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Court since 1997.
Garland, 68, received the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
“I’m voting to confirm Judge Garland because of his long reputation as a straight shooter and a legal expert,” McConnell said on the floor before the vote. “His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream. Let’s hope our incoming attorney general applies that no-nonsense approach to the serious challenges facing the Department of Justice and our nation.”
In his confirmation hearing several weeks ago, Garland said his first briefing as attorney general would focus on the Jan. 6 Capitol breach and its investigation. So far, more than 300 suspects have been arrested on a variety of charges in connection to the incident.
“I intend to make sure that we look more broadly to look at where this is coming from, what other groups there might be that could raise the same problem in the future,” he said during the hearing. In the 1990s, as U.S. attorney, Garland investigated and led prosecutions after the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995.
But Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) last week said Garland refused “to answer basic questions” during the hearing relating to his views on the death penalty, illegal immigration, and gun laws.
“Ensuring the Senate has time to debate these issues and get answers is the same thing that Senate Democrats did for Bill Barr,” Cotton wrote on Twitter. “We’re not going to have one standard for Trump’s nominees and another for Biden’s.”
When asked by Cotton about whether illegally crossing the U.S. border is a crime, Garland replied that “the president has made clear that we are a country of borders and with a concern about national security,” but stated he didn’t know “of a proposal to decriminalize but still make it unlawful to enter.”
“I asked Judge Garland whether the Department of Justice has authority to deny gun sales indefinitely to individuals who have not been found to have any background check red flags. He said he doesn’t know,” Cotton also said, while also blocking his quick confirmation.
Criminal justice reform and voting rights would also be on his agenda list, Garland told the senators.
“I regard my responsibilities with respect to the Civil Rights Division as at the top of my agenda priorities lists. So you have my commitment to do everything I can in this area,” Garland said during the hearing.
After Garland’s confirmation as attorney general, Biden and Senate Democrats will now be able to fill the vacancy on the D.C. Circuit Court.