Garland, Merrick (full name) President Joe Biden’s attorney general from 2021 until his resignation in January of that same year, Brian Garland, was born in Chicago on November 13, 1952. In the past, Garland served as a judge on the U.S. District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals (1997–2021; chief judge, 2013–20).
He was the great-grandson of Jews who fled the Pale of Settlement, the Russian Empire’s westernmost zone where Jews were forbidden to live because of anti-Semitism, in the early 1900’s. In 1974, he graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in social studies.
He served as an editor of the esteemed Harvard Law Review during his time at Harvard Law School. When Garland graduated from law school in 1977, he worked as a legal clerk for both Second Circuit Judge Henry J. Friendly and Supreme Court Associate Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (1978–79).
In 1979, Garland was appointed to the position of special assistant to Attorney General Benjamin R. Civiletti of the U.S.A. As of 1981, he had been employed by the law firm Arnold and Porter, in Washington, DC; this position he retained till then. For the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992, Garland served as an assistant US attorney. Later in his career, he served in the Department of Justice under President Bill Clinton.
Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the men accused of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people, were prosecuted by Garland while he served as the primary associate deputy U.S. attorney general beginning in 1994. For 17 years, Ted Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber,” carried out a bombing campaign in the United States that killed three people and injured 29 others.
After serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Clinton nominated Garland to the Supreme Court. A disagreement on whether to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court led to a halt in the nomination process by the Senate Republicans. The Senate voted 76–23 to approve Garland in 1997. His confirmation hearing cited the influence of John Marshall; Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.; and Stephen Brennan. Garland became known as a judicial centrist after taking his position in the appeals court. In February 2013, he was promoted to the position of the chief judge.
At issue was the CIA’s use of drones in counterterrorism operations, and Garland sided with the American Civil Liberties Union in favor of the ACLU in a landmark judgment that year. For the federal government, Garland’s rulings were precedent-setting. Since government contractors were forbidden from making contributions to political campaigns under a long-standing law, his leadership on the court has been important in sustaining the FEC’s implementation of that law in 2015.
President Barack Obama took advantage of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016 to appoint a more moderate justice to the Supreme Court. A vote on Garland’s nomination was scheduled for March, but the Senate’s Republican majority refused to hold a hearing or even schedule a vote on the appointment. They hoped that a Republican president would be elected in 2016 and pick a more conservative Supreme Court Justice.
It was pointed out by legal specialists and many Democrats that the Senate Republicans’ filibuster of a Supreme Court appointment was unprecedented in modern times. Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, won the election in November.
After Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, he nominated Neil Gorsuch, a conservative appellate court judge, to the Supreme Court. In April 2017, Republicans defeated a Democratic filibuster to confirm Gorsuch by eliminating the conventional 60-vote threshold for invoking cloture (to end debate and proceed to a vote).
The Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States (Judicial Conference) from 2017 to 2020 was chaired by Garland. In February 2020, he resigned from his position as chief judge of the District of Columbia Circuit, but he remained sitting on the bench.
I’m trying to think if there was any other time in history where the government tried to silence political opponents in the way that #MerrickGarland did with the #MarALagoRaid today. #TRUMP2024 #Trump #maga pic.twitter.com/0JavySu4MI
— Fred Ernsting (@FredErnsting) August 9, 2022
Democratic candidate Joe Biden defeated Republican candidate Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, which was held on November 3. Biden nominated Garland for the position of U.S. attorney general as president-elect. At the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February 2021, Garland claimed that he would focus on combatting “extremist attacks on our democratic institutions” as attorney general.
On January 6, 2021, a violent crowd of Trump supporters invaded the U.S. Capitol while Congress was in the process of recognizing Biden’s victory in the 2020 election, and he particularly mentioned that attack. The election results had been disputed by Trump and his supporters based on unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud.
If confirmed, Garland promised to conduct a thorough inquiry into what he called “a terrible action that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transition of power to a freshly elected government.” On March 10, 2021, the Senate voted 70–30 to confirm Garland’s appointment as attorney general.
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