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Merrick Garland praised as Joe Biden's pick for attorney general, confirmation vote expected next week

Bart Jansen, USA TODAY
·3 min read
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WASHINGTON – All five witnesses at Merrick Garland's confirmation hearing Tuesday praised the judge and former federal prosecutor, signaling his likely bipartisan confirmation next week as President Joe Biden's attorney general.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote Monday on Garland's nomination and the full Senate is expected to vote next week, said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the panel’s chairman.

Garland, a longtime federal judge and former federal prosecutor, testified Monday. On Tuesday, the five witnesses called by Democrats and Republicans spoke to his capability to become America's top law enforcement official.

Wade Henderson, interim CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, led off the Democratic witnesses in saying the Justice Department was “deeply tarnished” during the Trump administration through its support for discriminatory voting laws.

Garland had noted during his testimony Monday that the department was created to fight the Ku Klux Klan after the Civil War. Henderson urged Garland to vigorously enforce laws for voting access, to deal with the COVID-19 crisis in prisons and to suspend the use of the death penalty.

“The need for robust federal civil rights enforcement has never been more important for the country,” Henderson said.

Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's pick to be attorney general, answers questions from Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., as he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 22, 2021.
Judge Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden's pick to be attorney general, answers questions from Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., as he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 22, 2021.

Andrea Tucker, whose twins attended J.O. Wilson Elementary School, where Garland has tutored for more than 20 years, said he brings character, commitment and dedication to whatever he does.

“He is a man who actually does what he says he will,” Tucker said.

Donna Bucella, a former U.S. attorney in Florida, worked with Garland as he headed the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

She said they as they toured the carnage with 168 dead, they paused at the former daycare center. “An empty silence overcame us,” she said. Bucella added that Garland made sure no corners were cut during the investigation and made sure all voices were heard.

“He is a serious person and doesn’t shy away from making the hard decisions,” Bucella said.

Two experts invited by Republicans also supported Garland, but urged him to maintain policies from the Trump administration.

Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law, said Garland should continue a policy that avoided treating executive “guidance” statements as having the force of law.

Former President Donald Trump signed executive orders to prevent what Blackman called “government by blog post.” But President Joe Biden rescinded those executive orders on his first day in office.

Blackman also said Garland should scrutinize legal settlements to reform local police departments, and avoid paying settlements in cases to third-party groups, a process he called “settlement slush funds.”

Ken Starr, a retired judge and former independent counsel, called the attorney general job difficult, but said Garland must make tough decisions.

“It’s a hard job,” Starr said. “Controversy – at times quite bitter – goes with the territory.”

Garland said Monday his top priorities are investigating domestic terrorism such as the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and combating foreign terrorism in the 20th anniversary year of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He discussed the need for racial equity in law enforcement. And he expects a moratorium would be declared on the federal executions.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Joe Biden's attorney general nominee Merrick Garland praised in Senate