Democrats are now expected to have full control of the US Senate, and that will smooth the way for President-elect Joe Biden's cabinet nominations, including a nominee who was once blocked by the Republican Senate.
Biden introduced Merrick Garland as his pick for attorney general on Thursday along with three others he has selected for senior Justice Department positions to "restore the independence" of the agency and faith in the rule of law.
"Our first-rate nominees to lead the Justice Department are eminently qualified, embody character and judgment that is beyond reproach, and have devoted their careers to serving the American people with honor and integrity," Biden said in a statement. "They will restore the independence of the department so it serves the interests of the people not a presidency, rebuild public trust in the rule of law, and work tirelessly to ensure a more fair and equitable justice system."
Garland is currently chief judge of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, and he has been on the federal appeals court in Washington since 1997. Garland also previously held senior positions at the Justice Department decades ago, including as a supervisor of the prosecution of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
In 2016, President Obama nominated him to the US Supreme Court to fill the seat that had been held by Antonin Scalia.
At the time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to hold confirmation hearings saying that the process should wait till after the election. Then newly elected President Trump picked Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat.
Garland was selected over other finalists including former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.
As the new attorney general, Garland would confront immediate challenges on the job, including an ongoing criminal tax investigation into Joe Biden's son Hunter. A special counsel investigation into the origins of the Russia probe also remains open, forcing a new attorney general to decide how to handle it and what to make public.
He would also return to a Justice Department radically different from the one he left. The Sept. 11 attacks were years in the future and the department's national security division had not yet been created. A proliferation of aggressive cyber and counterintelligence threats from foreign adversaries have made countries like China, Russia, and North Korea top priorities for federal law enforcement.
It is rare but not uncommon for attorneys general to have previously served as judges. In 2007, President George W. Bush picked Michael Mukasey, a former federal judge in Manhattan, for the job. Obama's first attorney general, Eric Holder, had also previously been a Superior Court judge in the District of Columbia.
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