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US appeals court judge Merrick Garland on Monday choked up and became emotional while discussing his motivation for being a public servant.
At Garland’s confirmation hearing for attorney general before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey asked the judge to talk about why he wanted to serve in the role.
“One thing you said to me privately particularly motivated me to believe you when you talk about your aspirations,” Booker said. “I’m wondering if you can just conclude by talking — answering the question about your motivation and maybe some of your own family history in confronting hate and discrimination in American history.”
“Yes, senator,” Garland said, before pausing.
“I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution,” he continued as he teared up. “The country took us in and protected us, and I feel an obligation to the country to pay back, and this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back.”
Garland added: “So I want very much to be the kind of attorney general that you’re saying I could become. I’ll do my best to try and be that kind of attorney general.”
Watch the exchange below:
You want evidence Garland isn’t a political operative like some past-AGs? If he was, these remarks would have been front and center in his opening statement. That’s what politicos do. Garland didn’t volunteer this emotional info until asked by Booker. pic.twitter.com/BIKQS21JPo
— Bradley P. Moss (@BradMossEsq) February 22, 2021
President Joe Biden tapped Garland to serve as attorney general on January 7, saying in a statement that Garland and other DOJ nominees reflected Biden’s “deeply held commitment to reaffirming the Department of Justice as a pillar of independence and integrity, and ensuring that the Attorney General and his senior leadership team are the American people’s lawyers — not the president’s law firm.”
It was a remarkable development for Garland, who made headlines after the Republican-controlled Senate in 2016 stonewalled his nomination to the US Supreme Court.
At his confirmation hearing on Monday, Garland expressed a commitment to assuring that the DOJ applies the rule of law so that “the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, and that the rights of all Americans are protected.”
President Donald Trump often drew criticism for using the Justice Department as a shield for himself and a sword against his enemies. He once said he had the “absolute right to do what I want to do” with the department, leading to a breakdown in the institution’s traditional independence from the White House. Trump’s actions were frequently enabled by Attorney General William Barr, who took extraordinary measures while leading the department to protect all the president’s men.
After winning the 2020 election, Biden pledged to restore the independence of and public trust in the Justice Department and US intelligence agencies. To that end, he said he would not encourage investigations into Trump or other political opponents, but that he also would not stand in the way if the FBI or the Justice Department undertook them.
“I’m not going to be telling them what they have to do and don’t have to do. I’m not going to be saying, ‘Go prosecute A, B, or C,'” Biden told CNN in a recent interview, adding: “It’s not my Justice Department. It’s the people’s Justice Department.”