On Merrick Garland’s Confirmation

As you may, or may not, have heard, Merrick Garland was confirmed, by a vote of 70-30, as the next Attorney General for the United States a few minutes ago. That is a good thing. Garland is a competent, and stabilizing, presence that will be very good for the Department of Justice. And, man can the DOJ use that about now.

But, before people do too many backflips, remember that Merrick Garland is no avenging liberal hero. He has a horrible record on criminal justice issues, and very long has. He is a built in stabilizer, but certainly not as the once and future cure for the ills of the justice system, which at his new job will be front and center.

Is Garland the cure? No. He is an admirable and good man that will restore some bit of normalcy and, hopefully, consistent competence to the DOJ. That alone means everything right now in the wake of the disastrous Jeff Sessions, Matt Whitaker and William Barr eras under Donald Trump. The resetting and stabilization is critical right now.

There are a bunch of just below the AG nominees Biden has made that are great. As Marcy noted previously, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke are excellent people. And, yes, even Lisa Monaco (as DAG) will likely be a competent and worthy person in leadership. Didn’t see me saying that ten years ago. There are also outstanding former DOJ people like Sam Bagenstos and Sasha Samberg-Champion returning to government, even if not at the DOJ, and they are taking pay hits to do so. Be thankful for those, and similar, people because that is also truly good stuff.

In short, all are tectonic shifts in the right direction from the disastrous Trump years. But, as to Garland, let’s wait and see. He was a good and stable choice. Before you place your hopes and dreams on him too much, however, let him show his work. On criminal justice, his history of work has been, shall we say, rather uneven. There were several warts when Obama nominated Garland for the Supreme Court, and there still are. For now though, great.

60 replies
  1. Badger Robert says:

    The DoJ should be able to function without WH interference. That alone would be a welcome change.
    His comments about white supremacy extremists set a high standard. Lets see what he can do with regard to infiltrating and prosecuting their groups.

  2. Tom S. says:

    No disagreement with anything you said. Asking this because I don’t have my own answer. Who would you have chosen instead of Garland? It seems a set up of an assignment I would not wish on my worst enemy, if the new Attorney General actually attempted to see to it that everyone got what was coming to them. Real accountability seems ideal method of rehabilitating all at DOJ that needs it, dating all the way back to Holder assigning John Durham to make accountability for torture go away and not charging Anwar Al-Awlaki out of concern doing so would enhance his rights. Drone striking his son and reserving the right to take out residents on U.S. soil also seemed unreasonable. But before all that there was the Liberty University staffed DOJ under Gonzales, preceded by General Ashcroft’s curtaining off the bosom of the lady justice statue and what that said about his approach to administering DOJ policy and priorities.

    • bmaz says:

      That is not an easy question. I think Garland, given the current climate, was a fine choice. Just want folks to be wary. If me, probably David Kris or Chuck Rosenberg, though informed neither really wanted the job even if seriously considered, which I also understand they were not.

      • scribe says:

        It was held against Garland, back when he was up for S.Ct., on this side of the internet, that he was pretty much a crime warrior in the Conserva-Dem mould. A lot of people were “disappointed” in Obama for choosing him, rather than someone further to the left on criminal justice. Like, maybe with experience as a defense attorney. Actual experience of years and years and not some box-checking represented a guy once experience. As history turned out in its own ironic way, Gorsuch has been some good deal closer to Sotomayor and Kagan on criminal law issues than Garland would have been.

        Being a crime warrior is not a “bad” thing on the resume when it comes to candidates for AG. Their job is to put people in cages. But when it comes to judicial interpretation of criminal laws, the last thing we need is an AG in black robes.

        The qualifications for the two jobs are different. Garland seems well suited to this current job and now he has it. ‘Good luck.

        • bmaz says:

          Absolutely, yes to all of that. Especially the good luck part, he did not step into an easy job. He really does have the background and temperament to succeed at this moment.

        • scribe says:

          It’s been said elsewhere before and I’ll reiterate it here: A lot of people on the left were deeply concerned and militated against all that surveillance tech and the aggression of law enforcement against people who disagreed with one government policy or action or another.

          Until they got a chance to use it to hunt Trump supporters.

          Then it was great fun and an opportunity for community participation, almost as much fun as back in the day when document dumps about political US Attorneys (circa 2005-6) would land over at Talking Points Memo and elsewhere and people would go into tearing through the documents to see what dirt they could find. The growth of the internet since made getting people fired from jobs, turned out of dwellings and all the rest a great deal of fun and quite easy.

          The Golden Rule applies in DC and politics generally – count on what you do unto others being done unto you.

          There were a lot of people who used to lionize Patrick Fitzgerald for prosecuting Libby, et als., and they never really got it through their heads that he -and others like him throughout law enforcement – prosecute because it’s their job. And all the tools today’s prosecutors will use against the right-wing folks accused of whatever relative to the Capitol, you can count on the FBI and police to turn them with even more vigor on the Left. Because the cop mentality aligns a lot more closely with the people being prosecuted now than it ever did, or ever will, with the Left.

          What you need is AGs and especially judges who are more concerned with the Bill of Rights and actually making them a bulwark against government, than a herd of activists who worship at the altar of Big Government. You have the latter in office today.

        • harpie says:

          I’m really wondering about the Judge Biden will nominate to replace Garland…and all the other ones he’ll nominate, too.

        • bmaz says:

          I am worried that, like Obama, Biden is not already up with a list of considered and vetted judicial nominees ready to go. And he clearly is not.

        • posaune says:

          I’m curious about Sheldon Whitehouse’s study and hearings on Leo Leonard’s bunch and the dark money behind judicial appointees. Seems to me he is looking ahead.

        • bmaz says:

          I think he is! But, keep in mind, that Sheldon was one of the places I, and a couple of others, were bitching hard at in 2009 about at this point. So, he too has seen this movie. Good for him, he needs to pound at this from several angles.

        • scribe says:

          Count on a crime warrior who loves the Administrative State and can never find a governmental agency ever violating the law or Constitution. Someone who’s spent their whole career in corporate law firms, maybe with a side trip to DoJ long enough to fluff their resume. Who loves unrestricted abortion and gun control.
          DC’s full of them.

        • bmaz says:

          They claim to want a healthy percentage of civil rights and criminal defense types. That is not particularly hard. Heck, I could give them a list of fantastic people by end of the afternoon. 50+1 will seat them.

        • noromo says:

          I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old joke about the difference between a conservative and a liberal?
          A conservative is just a liberal who’s been mugged, and a liberal is a just a conservative who’s been arrested.

  3. BobCon says:

    It will be interesting to see how much policy is set by Garland, as opposed to either coming from the White House or from the next level below Garland. It’s not uncommon for the AG to see themselves as a delegator and implementer rather than a policy leader, with a possible exception of some subissues.

    It is also going to interesting to see how much policy is driven by the Hill. It’s been a long, long time since we’ve seen much of that, even during GOP control.

  4. punaise says:

    bmaz, I recall you being pretty bearish on Garland early on, for variations of the reasons you stated. At the time there was general glee about “getting back” at McConnell, although the two positions are not equivalent, and this doesn’t right that wrong.

    But I agree that in the current environment he seems like a solid choice. I just hope Biden gets to appoint some Supreme Court justices at some point.

    • Wajim says:

      Yes, at least one, we hope, unless he waits too long like RBG. And by the way, it’s nice to see you’re still around, Punaise. Missed your wit while I was recently away

      • AndTheSlithyToves says:

        I’d love to see the unqualified predator Clarence Thomas retire. It could be the Karmic coda for Joe Biden, who shafted Anita Hill during Thomas’ confirmation hearings. Perhaps when Ginny Thomas’ long and corrupt involvement in electoral politics–peaking with her funding busloads of seditionists to attend the 1-6-2021 failed Insurrection–is reviewed, Clarence will be forced into retirement.

        • bmaz says:

          JFC, people in our comments are suddenly insane with what should, could, or will, occur. Try to deal with realities, actual laws and due process, and not simply fever dreams.

        • scribe says:

          They’ve been stoked into fever dreams for over 4 years now. You shouldn’t be expecting them to stop just like that. Not like their fever dreams are going to change [m]any minds, and certainly not those whose minds count.

          More interesting: Gronk says he’s playing this coming season, too.

        • bmaz says:

          Will be an interesting year. Arians Brady and Gronk now have a year together. Don’t know they can do it again, but of course they are coming back. It is fun again for all of them. Which is interesting to see. Good for them, good for the NFL and good for us fans, irrespective of how it turns out in the end.

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          Actually, I was responding to Punaise’s comment about hoping that Biden would get a SCOTUS pick. Thomas, like Amy Covid Barrett, should never have been appointed nor approved. The culture warriors got outplayed in both instances.
          I don’t have fever dreams, bmaz. I have PTSD after four-plus years of DC being held hostage by a dementia-addled malignant narcissist and Russian asset. FYI: I live 4 blocks from La Maison Blanche and across the street from a small hotel that was MAGA-Central until January 7th, starting with Trump’s “Triumph of the Will” convention in August 2020. Even sent some tips to the Bureau after the 6th, although my guess is that these folks are just witting dupes.

        • bmaz says:

          Well, yeah, you DO have fever dreams, because we are where we are, and it has substantively happened within a democracy that you would decry if it had not.

          Bloviating online does not change that. The issue is how to reset that, not how to knee jerk that it is not exactly how “you” want it to be.

        • posaune says:

          We still have the 10′-fence with razor wire blocking our street on one end. During the insurrection, the other end was blocked by two hummers.

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          Yeah, it was pretty much that way around the White House here in Foggy Bottom after the George Floyd/BLM protests. When Trump & Co.’s first attempt to incite a riot with his bible kayfabe on June 1st didn’t pan out–and he got nothing but a slap on the wrist–the fencing perimeter grew wider and higher, and the verbal gaslighting and disinformation went into overdrive. Between the chaos of the pandemic and the MAGA cultists flooding the neighborhood every few weeks from June until January 6th, it feels like I’ve been trapped in a “Twilight Zone” episode.

  5. Summertime Blues says:

    Having an Justice Department interested in the “rule of law” is sadly the exception rather than the return to what should be a norm. Arguably policy is set by the Administration. What has been lacking is any sort of oversight by Congress coupled with morally and legally bankrupt policies. Merrick Garland is a step in the right direction but the Deputy positions will have a larger impact on daily operations, and policy implementation. Sadly, it seems the greatest test the Justice Department and the Biden administration will face will be political – over the efforts to restrict or expand voting rights and the prevailing attitudes that drive the conflict.

    • BobCon says:

      You’re right that Congressional oversight has been missing, although maybe even bigger is Congress enacting legislation to drive DOJ policy, which has left a vacuum for presidents and the courts to fill.

      Most of the Democrats in Congress know the stakes. I hope they can get to the critical mass.

  6. sls642 says:

    I am hoping that the DoJ people who do the heavy lifting are aggressive and fearless. Don’t know what Congress and Biden are planning for the Trump coup conspiracy contingent but that will be critical.

    Have never been a fan of investigatory commissions composed of way too many people (common trait) but I have witnessed cases involving DoJ teams that were assembled for a single purpose and were incredibly impressive. I forget what they were called but they only worked on one critical case and did it as a team , The issue involved the environment and the DoJ team from DC went head to head with some of the most powerful groups in my state (Florida) and had no problems rolling right over them. Clinton was President and the only thing that stopped them from prevailing in one of the most difficult environmental issues in the state was when he left office. Everything stopped before the case could be concluded Instead, it continues to this day and remains a huge problem all these years later. A little more time and likely the problem would have been resolved ages ago.

    Just hope whomever winds up making the calls in the Trump fiasco is a hard ass, take no prisoners type of prosecutor with the smarts to match. And assembles a team that operates at the same level. Is that Garland? Time will tell. He has the name and credentials but that isn’t what counts in hyper-political fights. It’s not for the faint of heart.

    • Parker Dooley says:

      “hard ass, take no prisoners type of prosecutor ”

      On the contrary, I hope for a “take lots of prisoners” prosecutor. THere seems to be a target-rich environment.

  7. BroD says:

    Couldn’t agree more, bmaz. The first priority is to restore the integrity and credibility of the DOJ.

  8. harpie says:

    Well, here we go…

    9:48 PM · Mar 10, 2021

    After he’s sworn in tomorrow, Attorney General Merrick Garland will have a series of briefings on the Capitol attack. FBI Director Chris Wray and DOJ NSD leaders will participate. Then he’ll head to the USAO in DC to meet with officials working the Capitol investigation.

    Lee Lofthus, a long-standing Justice Department career official who interfaced with the Biden transition team, will swear in Garland at a closed press event after his arrival at DOJ tomorrow morning. VP Kamala Harris will swear him in at a ceremonial event in the evening.

  9. joel fisher says:

    Of course, Garland is a good choice, but I haven’t heard that one of his priorities is prosecuting—not simply “changing the culture”—prosecuting Justice Department political appointees who obstructed justice in plain view. The Stone, Manafort, Flynn etc prosecutions and pardons played out for all to see; As Damon Runyon said,”Why isn’t somebody getting arrested for something.” I get that prosecuting the 1/6 insurrectionists (300+; why not 800+?) is a priority, but the deep evil of Barr’s Justice Department requires attention from law enforcement.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Even though the GOP will scream witch hunt regardless of what’s been done, the task to root out the burrowers and bad actors will require the evidence to be solid and that takes time.

      Let the DJT minions do their half-assed political hatchet jobs, I see Garland’s DOJ investigations/prosecutions standing up in court and on appeal.

    • harpie says:

      Speaking of which:
      Ex-DOJer Willing To Assist In Trump’s Coup Now Subject Of Whistleblower Complaint https://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/jeffrey-clark
      March 11, 2021 10:09 a.m.

      The former Justice Department official who allegedly plotted with President Trump on a DOJ election intervention has now also been accused of politicizing the department’s hiring process on his way out the door. Jeffrey [BOSSERT] Clark, who served as the acting head of the DOJ civil division at the end of Trump’s term, is alleged by whistleblowers to have improperly intervened in the hiring of an attorney for a top career post in the division. […]

      About the earlier episode:

      • harpie says:

        From the WB letter:

        […] Mr. Clark abused his authority by injecting himself into the career staff promotion process — contrary to established and recently-revised protocols — by acting with only days left on the job, by running a sham selection process, by choosing the least experienced finalist who had already been passed over, and by selecting the one and only candidate who volunteered to defend one of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies […]

  10. Badger Robert says:

    OT: can we sort out the three types of cases? The Georgia election interference case, the NY financial crimes case(s), and the 1/06 riot case?

    • bmaz says:

      They already are! Three different cases, in three different court systems and three different prosecuting agencies.

    • joel fisher says:

      Did you forget about Russia? What about corruption at the Justice Department? What about Emoluments; does Trump just get to keep the cash?

      • scribe says:

        Emoluments was dismissed as moot. That’s over. And if anyone were to try to get after Trump over this, all he has to do is point to Mount Vernon. There, on the wall, a personal gift to President Washington from France: the key to the Bastille. He got it, kept it, and no one ever complained about it.
        No one thought he’d violated the Emoluments Clause, and that was when the people who’d drafted it were still in office.

  11. Savage Librarian says:

    Also, OT and off the radar for awhile. But, apparently, percolating along:

    “Felix Sater: Lawsuit Reveals Trump’s Ties to Him” – By James S. Henry and David Cay Johnston, 3/2/21

    “$440 Million Looted for Never-Built Moscow Tower, U.S. Real Estate. At Center of Schemes: Trump Associate Felix Sater.”

    “The documents alleging Sater’s illicit conduct are listed in the lawsuit brought by the city of Almaty, the largest city and former capital of Kazakhstan, and the looted BTA Bank in that city.”


    “U.S. Designates Ukrainian Oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, Billionaire Behind Zelensky, Over Corruption Allegations” – Jamie Ross, 3/5/21


  12. gmoke says:

    “He has a horrible record on criminal justice issues, and very long has.”

    That’s a horrible sentence.

    “…will restore some bit of normalcy.”

    Oh, a fan of Warren Harding.

    Good to remind us that those who are proclaimed as saviors probably aren’t though. Thanks for that.

  13. Mipiti3 says:

    Can you fix your typo (I starred it below) in the blurb on the opening site page??? Should be “confirmed”:
    “Merrick Garland being ***confined*** is excellent news. But he is not the savior you may be looking for. Yet, a positive and stabilizing step…”
    I enjoy reading the contributions to this site. Very enlightening. So there’s a key to the Bastille hanging up at Mount Vernon? I missed that when I toured it as a child. But with my French interests, that’s pretty neat to learn about.

    • bmaz says:

      I could, first time ever commenter. But if the only gripe you have is a stupid typo, then no. You have anything substantive, or not so much?

      • Mipiti3 says:

        I thought it would be helpful to point out the typo, since after lots of comments, no one had done so and it was right there on the front page of the site… People regularly point out typos in Ms. Wheeler’s comments. And I thought that was a harmless way for me to dip my toes in and make a first-ever comment. Appreciating the high caliber of the commenters here, I would take great care in making comments about the political content, and surely not do so too much on my very first try here. But I see that did nothing more than warrant your wrath, Bmaz, right off the bat. A bit of a mean welcome, imho, towards someone who just wanted to jump in here for the first time. As for Garland, I’m pleased he’s filling the AG position and look forward to his repairing a lot of the harm done under the Trump administration.

        • bmaz says:

          Hi Mipit13. Okay, my response was a bit snarky. Sorry about that. This is a blog, so my attitude has always been that, unless it changes substantive meaning, typos happen (especially with me), and who cares?

          As PJ noted, it was in the slug, which I barely pay attention to. At any rate, you deserved a better response from me than you got. But welcome, and please ante up your substantive thoughts too in the future, and do so often. It may not always be the easiest of forums, but it is one of the very best.

    • P J Evans says:

      I saw that one, and was surprised it hadn’t be noticed. It’s just in the “teaser”, though.

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