Attorney General Merrick Garland paid a visit to his new office Thursday morning to deliver his first remarks to Justice Department staff ahead of his swearing-in by Vice President Kamala Harris.
Speaking during his virtual address to all 115,000 department employees, Garland reiterated his pledge to de-politicize the DoJ and maintain a commitment to equal justice.
“The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people, is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee,” he told the small crowd physically present for his first visit.
“Those norms require that like cases be treated alike — that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends and another for foes, one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, or different rules depending upon one’s race or ethnicity.”
His remarks came the morning after the Senate voted to confirm the DC Circuit Court judge as U.S. Attorney General with a strong bipartisan vote.
Twenty Republican senators crossed the aisle in support of the one-time Supreme Court nominee.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — who prevented Garland from becoming a Supreme Court justice in 2016 when he blocked his nomination — said he was voting to confirm Garland because of “his long reputation as a straight shooter and a legal expert” and that his “left-of-center perspective” was still within the legal mainstream.
Along with McConnell (R-Ky.), the Republicans who crossed over were Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.), James Lankford (R-Ok.), Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.), Joni Ernst (R-Ia.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Thune (R-SD), Mitt Romney (R-Ut.), Rob Portman (R-Oh.), Jim Inhofe (R-Ok.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), John Cornyn (R-Tx.), Jerry Moran (R-Ks.). Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Susan Collins (R-Me.), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) and Mike Rounds (R-SD).
With the 20 Republicans in a 50-50 split Senate, Garland was confirmed with a 70-30 vote.
The federal judge faced some criticism from GOP senators during his confirmation hearings over the vagueness of some of his answers, although he was still praised over his commitment to “depoliticize” the Justice Department.
Of those who objected to Garland’s lack of substance was Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee which handled the AG confirmation hearings.
Cotton bemoaned Garland’s testimony after the fact while speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday night, blasting the Attorney General nominee’s claim that he “hadn’t thought” about whether entering the country illegally should be a crime.
“You would think that would be a very simple question. But Judge Garland responded that he ‘hadn’t thought about it.’ Hadn’t thought about it,” Cotton said, “It stretches the bounds of belief that a federal judge who has been on the bench for nearly a quarter-century ‘hadn’t thought’ about that question. Or that any American with common sense who believes in our borders and believes in our sovereignty, hadn’t thought whether it should be a crime to cross our border illegally.”
Garland was nominated by then-President Obama to fill the Supreme Court vacancy in the wake of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in March 2016. At the time, Republicans controlled the Senate while Obama, a Democrat, had the White House.