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Garland Confirmed As Attorney General 5 Years After Thwarted Supreme Court Bid

Merrick Garland speaks during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Feb. 22.
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Merrick Garland speaks during his confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill on Feb. 22.

A new chapter of Merrick Garland's long career in the law has opened after the Senate voted to pave the way for him to serve as attorney general.

The 70-30 vote for his confirmation comes five years after then-President Barack Obama nominated Garland to serve on the Supreme Court — a goal frustrated by Senate Republicans who refused to even consider a hearing for that post.

Garland, a moderate judge with deep prosecutorial experience, soon will lead a Justice Department reeling from political scandals and racing to confront the threat from violent home-grown extremists.

He has pledged that his first formal briefing and his highest priority will be bringing to justice the rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6, as well as the people who may have funded and organized that deadly attack in Washington as lawmakers met to certify the 2020 election.

In an earlier stint at the Justice Department, in 1995, Garland traveled to Oklahoma City after a bombing at the federal building killed 168 people. His colleagues credited him with helping build a meticulous trail of evidence that helped convict Timothy McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols. That experience, and his cool head during a later standoff with the Montana Freemen, could help inform his approach to the current wave of extremism.

Garland, who would be the 86th attorney general, has pledged to return to normal order after four years of tumult under former President Donald Trump. That included personal attacks on prosecutors and FBI agents and allegations that DOJ leaders had used their power to help Trump's allies and hurt his enemies.

President Biden has said it will be up to Garland and career professionals at Justice to weigh in on any investigations of Trump — and to evaluate the ongoing federal tax probe of Biden's son Hunter. Biden said his administration would work to promote racial justice and eliminate systemic sources of discrimination in the justice system.

Biden's picks for deputy attorney general and associate attorney general had their Senate hearings Tuesday. Lisa Monaco, who's in line to become second in command at Justice, won praise from Republican lawmakers. They had more pointed questions for civil rights lawyer Vanita Gupta, who would be the first woman of color to serve as associate AG.

Garland's grandparents fled antisemitism and found a home in the United States. He recounted their experience in emotional remarks at his confirmation hearing last month. "The country took us in, protected us," Garland said as his voice broke with tears. "And I feel an obligation to the country to pay back. This is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.
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