Garland Promises an Independent Department of Justice If Confirmed as Attorney General

January 8, 2021 Updated: January 8, 2021

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland on Thursday said he would oversee an independent Department of Justice if confirmed by the Senate.

Garland recounted during a press conference how one of his first jobs was assisting then-Attorney General Ben Civiletti decades ago. Civiletti sought to turn “norms that would ensure the departments’ adherence to the rule of law” into written policies, Garland said.

“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.

“If confirmed, my mission as Attorney General will be to reaffirm those policies as the principles upon which the department operates. As Ed Levi said at his own swearing-in, ‘Nothing can more weaken the quality of life, or more imperil the realization of the goals we all hold dear, than our failure to make clear by words and deed that our law is not the instrument of partisan purpose.’”

Garland worked in the Department of Justice (DOJ) until 1997, when he became a federal judge. He still works as a judge, pending his confirmation.

Garland said he believes the “essence of the rule of law is that like cases are treated alike” and that Democrats and Republicans should not be treated differently. He mentioned ensuring racial equity in the justice system and pursuing violent extremists.

President-elect Joe Biden, who announced Garland’s nomination earlier Thursday, said he made clear to DOJ nominees that they wouldn’t work for him.

“You are not the president or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation, to guarantee justice,” Biden said.

Joe Biden, Hunter Biden
Hunter Biden (L) embraces his father, President-elect Joe Biden, in Wilmington, Del., on Nov. 7, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP Photo)

The Democrat has faced questions about how his administration would handle the ongoing probe into his son, Hunter Biden. The Trump administration’s DOJ has declined to appoint a special counsel to oversee that probe, which supporters say would insulate it from potential interference once Biden enters office.

Biden later praised Garland, saying he “embodies honor, decency, integrity, fidelity to the rule of law and judicial independence.” He said he expects Garland will be swiftly confirmed by the Senate.

Garland is familiar to Biden. During the Obama administration, when Biden was vice president, Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court.

Republicans in the Senate declined to hold a vote on the nomination, stalling it until the 2016 presidential election. President Donald Trump eventually filled the seat with Neil Gorsuch.

Other Biden nominees to the DOJ include Lisa Monaco as nominee for deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta as nominee for associate attorney general, and Kristen Clarke as nominee for assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

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