Attorney General Merrick Garland has vowed to uphold one standard of justice on his first day leading the Department of Justice, echoing comments made by his predecessor William Barr during Barr’s tenure.
Garland addressed the whole of the Justice Department (DOJ) on Thursday where he reiterated his promise to apply one standard of justice across all cases handled by the department.
“As I said at the announcement of my nomination, those norms require that like cases be treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans; one rule for friends and another for foes; one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless; one rule for the rich and another for the poor; or different rules depending upon one’s race or ethnicity,” he said.
Garland was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday in a 70–30 vote, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in approving President Joe Biden’s nominee. His confirmation process largely proceeded without drama. However, Republicans took steps to delay his confirmation vote over what they said were unsatisfactory responses to questions relating to politically sensitive issues.
The attorney general’s remarks on Thursday echoed comments made by former attorney general Barr, who was frequently accused by Democrats, former President Donald Trump’s critics, and the liberal media of “politicizing” the DOJ and interfering with politically sensitive cases related to Trump and his allies.
Barr defended his independence and actions during his tenure, saying that his decisions were made to uphold the rule of law and “restore” a single standard of justice across the United States.
“I wanted to make sure that we restore confidence in the system. There’s only one standard of justice,” Barr said in an interview in response to the criticism last year.
During a House Judiciary hearing in July last year, Democrat lawmakers grilled Barr over his involvement in several cases involving Trump’s allies—Roger Stone and Michael Flynn—accusing him of shielding them from prosecution and punishment.
Under Barr, the DOJ sought to lower a sentencing recommendation in Stone’s case after four line prosecutors recommended 7 to 9 years. The department also sought to drop its case against Flynn after a series of exculpatory information was made public.
Barr responded by saying, “Now, you say I helped the president’s friends … both cases, I determined some intervention was necessary to rectify the rule of law, to make sure the people were treated the same.
“I agree the president’s friends don’t deserve special breaks but they also don’t deserve to be treated more harshly than other people, and sometimes that is a difficult decision to make, especially when you know you’re going to be castigated for it. But that is what rule of law is,” he added.
Garland has appeared to be stepping carefully around the issue of independence of the DOJ, given the criticism his predecessor received.
Shortly after he was nominated to lead the department, Garland promised to oversee an independent DOJ if he was confirmed by the Senate.
“Those policies included: guaranteeing the independence of the department from partisan influence and 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 our principles to guide the exercise of prosecutorial discretion. Those policies became part of the DNA of every career lawyer and agent,” he said in January.
Garland’s tenure comes at a time when several politically sensitive investigations are underway, including a probe into Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings, and another on the origins of the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election.