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Senators Grill Garland on Lack of Equal Protections for Pro-Life Advocates

Attorney General Merrick Garland is sworn in to testify as the Senate Judiciary Committee examines the Department of Justice, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Senators grilled Attorney General Merrick Garland during his first appearance since a new Congress was seated, marking the first time he sat before the committee in over a year.

Garland fielded questions that ranged from fentanyl's impact on Americans, something he said was "unleashed on purpose" by cartels, to other inquiries about the investigation into Hunter Biden's laptop and the Justice Department's role in allegedly targeting parents.

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Unequal Treatment for Pro-Life Activists

A large portion of the hearing was also devoted to questions about how the Justice Department was applying the law to pro-life and pro-choice activists. Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee pointed out the disparity in arrests since the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision. 

Lee said 34 people have been charged for blocking access to abortion clinics in the past year, and only two have been charged in the hundreds of attacks on pregnancy centers and churches around the country.

"How do you explain this disparity by reference to anything other than politicization of what's happening?" the Utah senator asked Garland.

"Those who are attacking the pregnancy resource centers, which is a horrid thing to do, are doing this at night in the dark. We have put full resources on this," said Garland in part of his reply.

FBI's Raid on Pro-Life Activitst's Home

Multiple senators turned up the heat when they asked Garland about Mark Houck. The Catholic pro-life advocate recently beat a federal case against him after he was arrested in front of his family during an armed FBI raid at his Pennsylvania home last fall.

"Why do you send two dozen agents in body armor to arrest a sidewalk counselor who happens to be pro-life, but you don't devote resources to prosecute people who are violently firebombing crisis pregnancy centers?" Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) asked the attorney general. 

"It is a priority of the department to prosecute and investigate and find the people doing those fire bombings," Garland replied as part of a tense exchange.

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The tension and the line of questioning continued with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO).

"Are you telling me that in your opinion as attorney general, it was objectively necessary to use 20 or 30 SWAT-style agents with long guns and ballistic shields for these people?" Hawley said as he pointed to a photograph of Houck and his family. 

Targeting Parents and Catholics

Garland went on to discuss the controversy over a letter sent to the DOJ from the National School Board Association asking them to investigate hostile parents under the Patriot Act and label them as domestic terrorists. Garland told senators he disagreed with the reference in the letter.

The attorney general also faced questions about an FBI memo from this year allegedly targeting traditionalist Catholics. Garland called the memo "appalling" and said the FBI is not targeting Catholics.

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