It’s more than four years too late and a Supreme Court seat short, but Merrick Garland is finally going to get his Senate confirmation hearing. On Wednesday, Joe Biden leaked his intention to name the D.C. Circuit Court judge as his nominee for attorney general. In 2016, Barack Obama turned Garland into a household name when he nominated the jurist as his pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court. Mitch McConnell proceeded to turn Garland into a byword for Republican treachery by refusing to so much as grant Obama’s nominee a hearing in the upper chamber. Garland’s new, presumably less doomed nomination is set to be formally announced on Thursday.
The timing of Garland’s nod — coming the day after Democrats swept a pair of runoff elections in Georgia, thereby securing control of the Senate — is likely no coincidence. In addition to Garland, Biden had reportedly been considering former senator Doug Jones and former deputy attorney general Sally Yates for the position. The strongest argument for Biden to pick one of the latter candidates was that elevating Garland would remove a liberal judge from one of America’s most powerful appeals courts. Had Republicans retained control of the Senate, it’s unlikely Biden would have been able to appoint a progressive replacement for Garland to that court.
Now that Chuck Schumer is poised to become majority leader, however, Garland’s present job actually counts in his favor. By lifting the 68-year-old out of the judiciary, Biden clears the way for a younger, potentially more progressive replacement whom a Democratic Senate will surely confirm on a party-line vote if necessary.
Before his days in judicial robes, Garland held multiple high-level positions at the Justice Department, where he supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing. Biden reportedly feels Garland will command uniquely unanimous respect among the DOJ’s career staff, as he had served in the department under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The coming year could well be a tumultuous one at the DOJ, as it executes a criminal investigation into Hunter Biden’s tax practices and decides whether to pursue charges against Donald Trump for obstructing the FBI’s Russia investigation or any of the mogul’s myriad other acts of questionable legality.