US president-elect Joe Biden has chosen Merrick Garland, the federal appeals court judge whose nomination to the US supreme court was blocked by Republicans in 2016, to be attorney general in his incoming administration.
If confirmed, Mr Garland, who sits on the US court of appeals in Washington, DC, will head up the justice department, in what has become one of the most politically charged government roles under the Trump administration.
Mr Biden on Thursday described Mr Garland as “one of the most respected jurists of our time”, calling him “brilliant yet humble, distinguished yet modest, full of character and decency”.
Mr Biden was speaking a day after law enforcement agencies failed to stop a mob of supporters of outgoing president Donald Trump from storming the Capitol building in Washington.
The Democratic president-elect said those attacks underlined the importance of his choices to run the justice department. “We need to restore the honour, the integrity, independence. The department of justice in this nation has been so badly damaged,” he said.
Mr Garland said: “Ensuring the rule of law and making the promise of equal justice under law real are the great principles upon which the department of justice was founded, and for which it must always stand.
“They echo today in the priorities that lie before us, from ensuring racial equity in our justice system, to meeting the evolving threat of violent extremism.”
Mr Garland, a former federal prosecutor, was nominated by former Democratic president Barack Obama as a supreme court justice in 2016 after the death of the conservative judge Antonin Scalia.
Although Mr Garland was considered a centrist choice likely to win bipartisan support, his nomination was blocked from consideration by the Republican-controlled Senate, leaving the supreme court position open for Mr Obama's successor Donald Trump to replace Mr Scalia with another conservative, Neil Gorsuch, instead.
Mr Biden is likely to find it far easier to secure Mr Garland’s confirmation as attorney general, however, following Democratic victories in both Georgia Senate races earlier this week, which will give the party effective control of the upper chamber.
Lindsey Graham, the Republican head of the Senate judiciary committee, has also said he would support Mr Garland’s nomination as attorney general.
Mr Biden also announced three other nominations to lead the justice department alongside Mr Garland. He has chosen Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general, and Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke as associate attorneys general. All three have previously worked in the justice department, another sign of Mr Biden's preference for people with political experience to serve in senior posts in his administration.
The justice department has become one of the most politicised organisations in the Trump administration. William Barr, Mr Trump's former attorney general, was criticised for his loyalty to the outgoing president, and was accused of selectively releasing parts of special counsel Robert Mueller's report about Russian interference in the 2016 election to help Mr Trump.
Mr Biden said Mr Garland "embodies honour, decency, integrity, fidelity to the rule of law and judicial independence. Those same traits he will now bring as attorney general of the United States, not as a personal attorney to the president." – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021