WASHINGTON (NewsNation Now) — President-elect Joe Biden formally introduced Judge Merrick Garland as his pick for attorney general on Thursday, along with three other nominees to lead the U.S. Justice Department.
Biden also described the pro-Trump mob that stormed the Capitol on Wednesday as “domestic terrorists” and assailed the Republican president for inciting the siege.
“The past four years we’ve had a president who’s made his contempt for our democracy, our Constitution, the rule of law, clear in everything he has done,” Biden said, vowing a dramatic change of course in his administration. “More than anything, we need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the Department of Justice that’s been so badly damaged.”
Biden announced the nominations from an event in Wilmington, Delaware. He introduced Lisa Monaco as his nominee for deputy attorney general, Vanita Gupta for associate attorney general, and Kristen Clarke for assistant attorney general for the department’s Civil Rights Division.
“These leaders, all of whom are Justice Department veterans, will renew Americans’ faith in the rule of law and work tirelessly to build a more equitable justice system,” Biden’s transition team said in a statement on the same day that Congress certified the president-elect’s Electoral College win.
The event also follows Biden’s address to the nation Wednesday afternoon after the Senate and House’s joint session was delayed by President Donald Trump’s supporters storming the Capitol. Biden condemned the violence and asked the president to publicly “demand an end to this siege.”
Shortly after the certification, President Trump issued a statement promising an “orderly transition on January 20th.”
Garland, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, must win Senate approval to serve as U.S. attorney general. Republicans in the chamber had refused to grant him a hearing when former Democratic President Barack Obama nominated him to the Supreme Court in 2016.
If confirmed by the Senate, Garland would take over as the nation’s top law enforcement official at a critical moment for the country and the agency. He would inherit immediate challenges related to civil rights, an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Biden’s son Hunter and calls from many Democrats to pursue criminal inquiries into Trump after he leaves office.
Beyond the specific issues, he will be tasked with repairing the American people’s broad distrust in the Justice Department, among other institutions of democracy undermined by Trump’s presidency.
Biden vowed that Garland’s loyalty would rest not with the president, but with the law and Constitution.
“You don’t work for me,” Biden charged as he introduced Garland.
Facing the public for the first time at Biden’s side, Garland promised to restore independence and integrity to the Justice Department, pointing to Wednesday’s assault on the Capitol as a consequence of failing to do so.
“As everyone who watched yesterday’s events in Washington now understands, if they did not understand before, the rule of law is not just some lawyers’ turn of phrase, it is the very foundation of our democracy,” Garland said.
Garland held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor of the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
Garland was selected over other finalists including former Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. His confirmation prospects were solidified as Democrats on Wednesday scored control of the Senate majority by winning both Georgia Senate seats.
It is rare but not unprecedented for an attorney general to have previously served as judges. It happened in 2007 when President George W. Bush picked Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge in Manhattan, for the job. President Barack Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, had also previously been a Superior Court judge in the District of Columbia.
Garland has been on the federal appeals court in Washington since 1997. Before that, he had worked in private practice, as well as a federal prosecutor, a senior official in the Justice Department’s criminal division and as the principal associate deputy attorney general.