A key task for President Joe Biden’s administration is to restore the U.S. Justice Department, so damaged under the Trump administration, so that it regains its independence in prosecuting criminal cases and works to protect the American people’s civil and human rights, to bring to justice all those involved in the Capitol Hill rebellion, and to advance criminal justice reform.
President Biden made a promising start in early January by nominating a strong team to lead DOJ, headed by respected Judge and DOJ veteran Merrick Garland. But so far, Senate Republicans, led by Lindsey Graham, have delayed and obstructed these important confirmations.
Look at the record. By Feb. 8, following presidential inaugurations, attorneys general nominated by every new president in the 21st century, including John Ashcroft, Eric Holder, and Jeff Sessions. were confirmed by the Senate. As of the same date this year, with the cooperation of several Senate Republicans who led Senate committees until recently, the Senate had confirmed seven Biden nominees for such posts as Secretary of State, Treasury, and Defense. Yet despite requests from Democratic senators, Sen. Graham refused to even hold a hearing for Garland while he held the Senate Judiciary Committee chair.
Most recently, Graham rejected a written request last week from incoming chair Sen. Richard Durbin that Graham hold a hearing for Garland on Feb. 8, using the Trump impeachment trial starting the next day and the need for more time as an excuse. This is despite the fact that the trial will be held in the afternoons in order to allow morning hearings, as other committees are doing, and that Graham himself recently finished pushing through the fastest Supreme Court hearings on record for Amy Coney Barrett.
The results of this partisan delay have been and will continue to be very damaging.
It has already delayed action on what positions to take in numerous cases where Trump’s Justice Department took extreme positions, postponed initiatives like restoring Justice Department activity concerning state and local police abuse, and put off what Department veterans have called a necessary “salvage operation” that is important to begin “quickly.” Senator Chris Coons, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted that Garland’s confirmation could well be delayed until March and that having “our country’s chief legal officer sidelined for weeks is needlessly harmful.”
In fact, it was reported late on Feb. 9 that the Committee hearing for Garland will start on February 22, with a Committee vote no earlier than March 1. This is not to mention the further postponements that could await the other members of the Justice Department team nominated by Biden, including Lisa Monaco for Deputy Attorney General, Vanita Gupta for Associate Attorney General, and Kristen Clarke as Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
Sen. Charles Grassley, now the ranking Republican member on the Judiciary Committee, should cooperate with Committee Chair Durbin to schedule and hold hearings and votes on all these well-qualified nominees as soon as possible. And if Republicans try to continue to delay, Sen. Durbin should not hesitate to use every tool at his disposal to achieve that result. The same is true for nominations likely to come from President Biden soon for other DOJ posts and critical lifetime seats on the federal judiciary. Protecting the rights of all Americans and restoring our system of justice demands no less.