Merrick Garland pledges to pursue equal justice if confirmed as attorney general

President Biden's nominee for attorney general, Judge Merrick Garland, says pursuing equal justice for all and "battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions" will be among his priorities if confirmed for the job. Watch his opening statement from his Senate confirmation hearing.

Video Transcript

MERRICK GARLAND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, Members of the Judiciary Committee. I am honored to appear before you today as the president's nominee to be the Attorney General. I would like first to take this opportunity to introduce you to my wife, Lynn, my daughters, Jessie and Becky, and my son-in-law, Xan. I am grateful to them and to my entire extended family, that is watching today on C-SPAN, every day of my life. The president nominates the Attorney General to be the lawyer-- not for any individual, but for the people of the United States.

July 2020 marked the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Department of Justice, making this a fitting time to remember the mission of the Attorney General and of the Department. It is a fitting time to reaffirm that the role of the Attorney General is to serve the rule of law and to ensure equal justice under law. And it is a fitting time to recognize the more than 115,000 career employees of the Department and its law enforcement agencies, and their commitment to serve the cause of justice and protect the safety of our communities. If I am confirmed as Attorney General, it will be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced and the rights of all Americans are protected.

Before I became a judge, almost 24 years ago, a significant portion of my professional life was spent at the Justice Department as a special assistant to Ben Civiletti the last of the trio of post-Watergate attorneys general, as a line Assistant US attorney, as a supervisor in the Criminal Division, and finally as a senior official in the Department. Many of the policies that the Justice Department developed during those years are the foundation for reaffirming the norms that will ensure that the Department adheres to the rule of law. These are policies that protect the independence of the Department from partisan influence and law enforcement, that strictly regulate communications with the White House, that establish guidelines for FBI domestic operations and foreign intelligence collection, that ensure respectful treatment of the press, that read the Freedom of Information Act generously, that respect the professionalism of DOJ employees, and that set out the principles of federal prosecution to guide the exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

In conversations that I have had with many of you before this hearing, you have asked why I would agree to leave a lifetime appointment as a judge. I have told you that I love being a judge. But I have also told you that this is an important moment for me to step forward because of my deep respect for the Department of Justice and for its critical role of ensuring the rule of law. Celebrating DOJ's 150th year reminds us of the origins of the Department, which was founded during Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War to secure the civil rights that were promised in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments. The first attorney general appointed by President Grant to head the new department led it in a concerted battle to protect black voting rights from the violence of white extremists, successfully prosecuting hundreds of cases against white supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan.

Almost a century later, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the department's Civil Rights Division with a mission to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society. That mission on the website of the Department's Civil Rights Division remains urgent, because we do not yet have equal justice. Communities of color and other minorities still face discrimination in housing and education, in employment and in the criminal justice system. And they bear the brunt of the harm caused by pandemic, pollution, and climate change. 150 years after the Department's founding, battling extremist attacks on our democratic institutions also remains central to the Department's mission.

From 1995 to 1997, I supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, who sought to spark a revolution that would topple the federal government. If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6th, a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy-- the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government. And that critical work is a part of the broad scope of the Department's responsibilities. Justice Department protects Americans from environmental degradation and the abuse of market power, from fraud and corruption, from violent crime and cybercrime, and from drug trafficking and child exploitation. And it must do all of this with without ever taking its eye off of the risk of another devastating attack by foreign terrorists.

The Attorney General takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. I am mindful of the tremendous responsibility that comes with this role. As Attorney General, later Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously said, quote, "the prosecutor has more control over life, liberty, and reputation than any other person in America. While prosecutors at their best are one of the most beneficent forces in our society. When they act from malice or other based motives, they are one of the worst." Jackson then went on to say, 'the citizens' safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches the task with humility." That was the prosecutor I tried to be during my prior service in the Department of Justice. That is the spirit I tried to bring to my tenure as a federal judge. And if confirmed, I promise to do my best, to live up to that ideal as Attorney General. Thank you.