Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, DC, February 22, 2021.
Drew Angerer | Pool | Reuters
The Senate on Wednesday voted to confirm Merrick Garland as attorney general, placing the longtime federal appeals court judge and one-time Supreme Court pick at the helm of an agency central to President Joe Biden‘s domestic policy agenda.
The vote was 70-30.
Garland takes over as the head of the Department of Justices as the sprawling agency continues to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, one of the largest probes in its history. Garland has called the inquiry his No. 1 priority.
The Justice Department will also be crucial in enacting Biden’s sweeping plans for civil rights enforcement and criminal justice reform. The department is likely to make important decisions in the coming years concerning regulation of the nation’s largest technology companies, which some lawmakers are pushing to break up.
Garland’s pledged to defend the independence of the Justice Department during hearings before the judiciary committee last month. Biden has made restoring the traditional distance between the department and political officials at the White House a top priority.
“I would not have taken this job if I thought that politics would have any influence over prosecutions and investigations,” Garland told lawmakers at his hearing. He said that he and Biden had not discussed an ongoing investigation into the tax affairs of Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., cheered Garland’s nomination ahead of the vote on Wednesday.
“America can breathe a sigh of relief that we’re finally going to have someone like Merrick Garland leading the Justice Department. Someone with integrity, independence, respect for the rule of law and credibility on both sides of the aisle,” Schumer said from the Senate floor. “He understands that the job of the attorney general is one to protect rule of law, unlike the previous attorneys general under President Trump.”
Before Biden tapped Garland to be attorney general, the centrist lawyer was nominated by former President Barack Obama to a seat on the Supreme Court in 2016 after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Republicans at the time controlled the Senate, and refused to hold a hearing on his nomination.
Several other top Justice Department nominees are still being considered by the Senate, including Vanita Gupta, Kristen Clarke and Lisa Monaco. Gupta and Monaco faced questions from senators on Tuesday.
Gupta, who led the Justice Department’s civil rights division under Obama, is nominated to become associate attorney general. Clarke is nominated to be the head of the civil rights division. Biden nominated Monaco to be deputy attorney general.
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