President-elect Joe Biden has selected Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge who in 2016 was snubbed by Republicans for a seat on the Supreme Court, as his attorney general, two people familiar with the selection process said Wednesday.
In picking Garland, Biden is turning to an experienced judge who held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor of the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The pick will force Senate Republicans to contend with the nomination of someone they spurned in 2016 — refusing even to hold hearings when a Supreme Court vacancy arose — but Biden may be banking on Garland’s credentials and reputation for moderation to ensure confirmation.
Biden is expected to announce Garland’s appointment on Thursday, along with other senior leaders of the department, including former homeland security adviser Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general and former Justice Department civil rights chief Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general. He will also name an assistant attorney general for civil rights, Kristen Clarke, the president of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, an advocacy group.
Garland was selected over other finalists including Alabama Sen. Doug Jones and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. The people familiar with the process spoke on condition of anonymity. One said Biden regards Garland as an attorney general who can restore integrity to the Justice Department and as someone who, having served in the Justice Department under presidents of both political parties, will be respected by nonpartisan career staff.
If confirmed, Garland would confront immediate challenges, including an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter, as well as calls from many Democrats to pursue inquiries into Trump after he leaves office. A special counsel investigation into the origins of the Russia probe also remains open, forcing a new attorney general to decide how to handle it and what to make public.
Garland would also inherit a Justice Department that has endured a tumultuous four years and would likely need to focus on not only civil rights issues and an overhaul of national policing policies after months of mass protests over the deaths of Black Americans at the hand of law enforcement.
It was unclear how Garland’s selection would be received by Black and Latino advocates who had advocated for a Black attorney general or for someone with a background in civil rights causes and criminal justice reform. But the selection of Gupta and Clarke, two women with significant experience in civil rights, appeared designed to blunt those concerns and offered as a signal that progressive causes will be prioritized in the new administration.
Garland would also return to a Justice Department radically different than the one he left. The Sept. 11 attacks was years away, the department’s national security division had not yet been created and a proliferation of aggressive cyber and counterintelligence threats from foreign adversaries have made counties like China, Russia and North Korea top priorities for federal law enforcement.
Monaco brings to the department significant national security experiece, including in cybersecurity — an especially urgent issue as the U.S. government confronts a devastating hack of federal agencies that officials have linked to Russia.