US Senate confirms Merrick Garland as attorney general

The US Senate has voted to confirm Merrick Garland as attorney general to lead the Justice Department, a central role to President Joe Biden’s domestic policy agenda.

Senators on Wednesday voted 70-30 on Garland’s nomination, showing solid bipartisan support in the evenly split upper chamber. Twenty Republican senators joined Democrats to vote in favour of the former Supreme Court nominee picked by then President Barack Obama almost five years ago.

“I’m voting to confirm Judge Garland because of his long reputation as a straight shooter and a legal expert. His left-of-center perspective has been within the legal mainstream,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell ahead of the vote, Xinhua news agency reported.

“Let’s hope our incoming attorney general applies that no-nonsense approach to the serious challenges facing the Department of Justice and our nation,” the top Senate Republican said.

“America can breathe a sigh of relief that we’re finally going to have someone like Merrick Garland leading the Justice Department … He understands that the job of the attorney general is one to protect rule of law, unlike the previous attorneys general under President (Donald) Trump,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said before the vote.

During confirmation process, Garland, 68, pledged to be independent of Biden.

“I am the United States’s lawyer. I will do everything in my power … to fend off any effort by anyone to make prosecutions or investigations partisan or political in any way,” Garland said during the hearing last month.

He called the inquiry into the January 6 Capitol riot as his number 1 priority, saying he would not rule out investigating those who funded, organised, led and aided the attack leaving five people dead.

Among other challenges facing Garland are controversial policy fights on issues ranging from police reform to immigration. The Justice Department will be crucial in enacting Biden’s plans for civil rights enforcement and criminal justice reform.

Garland has been a judge on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia since 1997 and was its chief judge from 2013 to 2020. He was nominated by Obama to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in early 2016. Republicans, who then led the Senate, refused to give Garland a hearing or a vote.