WASHINGTON – Justice Merrick B. Garland plans to tell senators on Monday that he will restore the Justice Department’s commitment to equal justice before the law, fight a resurgent national terrorist threat, and work to eliminate widespread discrimination if confirmed as attorney general.
Justice Garland outlined his top three priorities in an opening statement he intends to deliver to the Judiciary Committee on Monday, when it begins confirmation hearings.
When President Biden appointed Judge Garland last month for the post of senior law enforcement official, he said the Justice Department’s struggle in the 20th century against the Ku Klux Klan showed that the struggle against the domestic terrorism and systemic racism were historically one and the same.
The fight Biden describes – “standing up to the Klan, resisting racism, tackling domestic terrorism” – exemplified the Justice Department’s commitment to protect the country’s most cherished ideals and institutions.
Justice Garland reflected that sentiment in his prepared remarks, which the Department of Justice released on Saturday night. The department was founded in the aftermath of the civil war, he will say, and the first attorney general waged a “concerted battle to protect black suffrage from the violence of white supremacists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of ‘cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan. . “
“This mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice,” Judge Garland should say. “Communities of color and other minorities continue to face discrimination in housing, education, employment and criminal justice.”
If confirmed as Attorney General, Justice Garland will inherit a deeply demoralized Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump and his Attorney General William P. Barr. Mr. Trump viewed the department as hostile to him, treating him either as an enemy to be thwarted or as a power to be wielded against his political enemies.
Mr Barr’s tenure was shaped in large part by the perception that he advanced the president’s personal and political agenda to the detriment of the independence of the department, through actions such as undermining his own investigation into Russia and the Trump campaign. And his former assistants say he was reluctant to heed the recommendations of career employees in the department, especially on matters of interest to Mr. Trump.
The Trump administration was also seen as openly combative towards the ministry’s mission of upholding civil rights, as it worked to reduce civil rights protections for transgender people, dismantle affirmative action policies in admissions. at university and remove the tools used by people of color. change the rules that effectively discriminate against them in matters of housing, education and employment.
Justice Garland’s statement nods to the recent past. “Now is the time to recognize the ministry’s more than 115,000 career employees,” he is expected to say, “and its law enforcement agencies, and their commitment to serving the cause of justice and protecting security. of our communities. ”
The statement continues: “If I am confirmed, being an attorney general will be the culmination of a career that I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are applied fairly and faithfully and that the rights of all Americans are upheld. protected. “
Several law enforcement and civil rights groups have written letters supporting Judge Garland’s appointment, and he should have the support of Republicans and Democrats.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, the Association of Federal Police Officers and the Fraternal Order of Police said in letters submitted to the Judicial Committee that they considered the Judge Garland as a respectful officer in the work of the police.
When President Barack Obama appointed Justice Garland to the Supreme Court in March 2016, an appointment Republicans effectively blocked, he was seen as a moderate judge who used to siding with law enforcement. in its decisions.
“Throughout his tenure as federal prosecutor and federal judge, Judge Garland has demonstrated a keen legal mind, a reputation for fairness and honesty, and a respect for law enforcement officers. order, ”the Fraternal Order of Police said in its letter.
But civil rights groups have presented his record as one that shows its ability to build consensus on thorny issues.
Justice Garland understands that this moment in our history “requires healing; and for the Department of Justice to vigorously protect the civil rights of marginalized communities, ”said the National Action Network, a civil rights organization founded by Reverend Al Sharpton.
If confirmed, Judge Garland will also head the department at a time when the threat of far-right extremism has risen sharply, a threat made incredibly clear on January 6, when militias, far-right nationalists , white supremacists, neo-Nazis and followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement stormed the Capitol.
“One hundred and fifty years after the creation of the department, the fight against extremist attacks against our democratic institutions also remains at the heart of its mission,” he should say Judge Garland.