Merrick Garland Nomination

When the name Merrick Garland comes to mind, one is likely reminded of his failed Supreme Court nomination in 2016, when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took the unprecedented action of blocking his (or any) appointment by President Obama, just hours after the vacancy had opened. As Mark Leibovich recently remarked on The Daily, “Merrick Garland, despite having an incredibly celebrated career, became known in Washington as the guy who was defined by the job he did not get.”

Under President Biden’s nascent administration, however, Garland’s identity may soon change. On January 7th, just a day after the deadly Capital riots, President Biden announced his intention to nominate Garland to the United States Attorney General position. While Garland’s nomination might seem, to some, as an attempt to remedy his failed Supreme Court appointment under President Obama, his career experience appears to tell a very different story.

Garland’s career began in 1997 when President Clinton nominated him as a judge to the United States Court of Appeals. Eventually advancing to the position of Chief Judge from 2013 to 2017, Garland was seen by many as a moderate, consensus-building figure. However, the highlights of Garland’s career figure most prominently in his work prosecuting domestic terrorism.

When Timothy J. McVeigh drove a 7,000-pound bomb into the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, Garland knew he had to get involved. His former boss recalled him saying, “I’ve got to go. Please send me,” and he was subsequently sent on behalf of the Justice Department to the scene of the attack. In witnessing the desolate detritus of the building and learning of the 168 fatalities, Garland later remarked that his work on the case was “the most important thing I have ever done in my life.” The Oklahoma City bombing was the worst instance of domestic terrorism the United States had witnessed, a trend that has only steadily increased since. 

Despite the media coverage and copious documentation - the FBI amassed three-and-a-half tons of evidence - Garland emerged as a critical figure in the investigation. His remark to a lead prosecutor, “Do not bury the crime in the clutter,” became a staple slogan for the team, and its words were later displayed on an office wall.

Garland later went on to work on other cases of domestic terrorism, most notably involving the Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski and the bombing of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. Garland has accrued a laudable reputation following these cases: he was celebrated for his impeccable case organization, his moving humanity, and his unwavering commitment to justice.

The threat of domestic terrorism is even more salient in today’s discourse. Garland’s nomination came only a day after the June 6th attack on the Capital, and the general demographic of its actors - white, middle-aged men - is familiar to him. But Garland now has more factors on his plate, like the advent of social media and the increase in weapon technology.

Furthermore, the demands of the Attorney General position are more demanding than just domestic terrorism. Although the recent spotlight on domestic terrorism lines up well with Garland’s experience, other timely issues like civil rights and criminal justice reform are sure to pose challenges as well. 

Now, sitting in front of a body that refused his nomination five years ago, Garland finally has an opportunity to assert his robust experience in the hopes that this will secure him a position to help a more significant number of Americans. So far, senators have questioned the nominee on his experience using the death penalty, illegal immigration, and systematic racism, among other issues. Several Republican senators, referring to the Obama Administration, also raised the Justice Department’s recent politicization, which Garland disavowed. Some senators responsible for his failed Supreme Court nomination even raised the past event. His nomination process has highlighted his expertise, introspection, and calm disposition in light of these questions. 

Garland is on the road for a successful confirmation vote this upcoming weak. Senator McConnell, who led the decision to block his hearing in 2016, even told Politico last week that he intends to support his nomination. Once remembered as a casualty of partisan strife, Garland now seems set to redeem his robust career and lead the Justice Department as acting Attorney General under President Joe Biden.