Merrick Brian Garland (born November 13, 1952) is an American attorney and jurist serving as the 86th United States attorney general since March 2021. He served as a circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1997 to 2021.
|86th United States Attorney General|
|Assumed office |
March 11, 2021
|Preceded by||Jeffrey A. Rosen (acting)|
|Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
February 12, 2013 – February 11, 2020
|Preceded by||David B. Sentelle|
|Succeeded by||Sri Srinivasan|
|Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit|
March 20, 1997 – March 11, 2021
|Appointed by||Bill Clinton|
|Preceded by||Abner J. Mikva|
|Succeeded by||Ketanji Brown Jackson|
Merrick Brian Garland
November 13, 1952
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
|Residence||Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.|
|Education||Harvard University (AB, JD)|
A native of the Chicago area, Garland attended Harvard University for his undergraduate and legal education. After serving as a law clerk to Judge Henry J. Friendly of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., he practiced corporate litigation at Arnold & Porter and worked as a federal prosecutor in the Department of Justice, where he played a leading role in the investigation and prosecution of the Oklahoma City bombers.
President Barack Obama, a Democrat, nominated Garland to serve as an associate justice of the Supreme Court in March 2016 to fill the vacancy created by the death of Antonin Scalia. However, the Republican Senate majority refused to hold a hearing or vote on his nomination. The rare refusal of a Senate majority to consider the nomination was highly controversial. Garland's nomination lasted 293 days (the longest to date by far), and it expired on January 3, 2017, at the end of the 114th Congress. Eventually, President Donald Trump, a Republican, nominated and appointed Neil Gorsuch to the vacant seat. In March 2021, President Joe Biden appointed Garland as Attorney General.
Early life and education
Merrick Brian Garland was born on November 13, 1952, in Chicago. He grew up in the northern Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood. His mother Shirley (née Horwitz) was a director of volunteer services at Chicago's Council for Jewish Elderly (now called CJE SeniorLife). His father, Cyril Garland, headed Garland Advertising, a small business run out of the family home. Garland was raised in Conservative Judaism, the family name having been changed from Garfinkel several generations prior. His grandparents left the Pale of Settlement within the Russian Empire in the early twentieth century, fleeing antisemitic pogroms and seeking a better life for their children in the United States. He is a second cousin of six-term Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.
Garland attended Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois, where he was president of the student council, acted in theatrical productions, and was a member of the debate team. He graduated in 1970 as the class valedictorian. Garland was also a Presidential Scholar and National Merit Scholar.
After high school, Garland went to Harvard University, where he majored in social studies. He initially wanted to become a physician, but quickly decided to become a lawyer instead. Garland allied himself with his future boss, Jamie Gorelick, when he was elected the only freshman member of a campus-wide committee on which Gorelick also served. During his college summers Garland volunteered as a speechwriter to Congressman Abner J. Mikva. After President Jimmy Carter appointed Mikva to the D.C. Circuit, Mikva would rely on Garland when selecting clerks. At Harvard, Garland wrote news articles and theater reviews for the Harvard Crimson and worked as a Quincy House tutor. Garland wrote his 235-page honors thesis on industrial mergers in Britain in the 1960s. Garland graduated from Harvard in 1974 as class valedictorian with an A.B. summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa.
Garland then attended Harvard Law School. During law school, Garland was a member of the Harvard Law Review. He ran for the presidency of the Law Review during his third year, but lost to Susan Estrich, and served as an articles editor instead. As an articles editor, Garland assigned himself to edit a submission by U.S. Supreme Court justice William Brennan on the topic of the role of state constitutions in safeguarding individual rights. This correspondence with Brennan later contributed to his winning a clerkship with the justice. Garland graduated from Harvard Law in 1977 with a Juris Doctor magna cum laude.
After graduating from law school, Garland spent two years as a judicial law clerk, first for Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1977 to 1978 and then for Justice William Brennan at the U.S. Supreme Court from 1978 to 1979. Garland then served as a special assistant to Attorney General Benjamin Civiletti from 1979 to 1981.
After the Carter administration ended in 1981, Garland entered private practice at the law firm Arnold & Porter. Garland mostly practiced corporate litigation, and was made a partner in 1985. In Motor Vehicles Manufacturers Ass'n v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (1983) Garland acted as counsel to an insurance company suing to reinstate an unpopular automatic seat belt mandate. After winning the case in both the District of Columbia Circuit Court and the Supreme Court, Garland would write an eighty-seven page Harvard Law Review article describing the way courts use a heightened "hard look" standard of review and scope of review when an agency chooses deregulation, with increasing focus on the fidelity of the agencies' actions to congressional intent. In 1985–86, while at Arnold & Porter, Garland was a lecturer at Harvard Law School, where he taught antitrust law. He also published an article in the Yale Law Journal urging a broader application of antitrust immunity to state and local governments.
Desiring to return to public service and do more trial work, in 1989 Garland became an Assistant United States Attorney in the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia. As a line prosecutor, Garland represented the government in criminal cases ranging from drug trafficking to complex public corruption matters. Garland was one of the three principal prosecutors who handled the investigation into Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry's possession of cocaine.
Garland then briefly returned to Arnold & Porter, working there from 1992 to 1993. In 1993, Garland joined the new Clinton administration as deputy assistant attorney general in the Criminal Division of the United States Department of Justice. The following year, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick – a key mentor of Garland's – asked Garland to be her principal associate deputy attorney general.
In that role, Garland's responsibilities included the supervision of high-profile domestic-terrorism cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing, Ted Kaczynski (also known as the "Unabomber"), and the Atlanta Olympics bombings.
Garland insisted on being sent to Oklahoma City in the aftermath of the attack, in order to examine the crime scene and oversee the investigation in preparation for the prosecution. He represented the government at the preliminary hearings of the two main defendants, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Garland offered to lead the trial team, but could not because he was needed at the Justice Department headquarters. Instead, he helped pick the team and supervised it from Washington, D.C., where he was involved in major decisions, including the choice to seek the death penalty for McVeigh and Nichols. Garland won praise for his work on the case from the Republican Governor of Oklahoma, Frank Keating.
Federal judicial service (1997–2021)
In 2003, Garland was elected to the Harvard Board of Overseers, completing the unexpired term of Deval Patrick, who had stepped down from the board. Garland served as president of the overseers for 2009–10.
On September 6, 1995, President Bill Clinton nominated Garland to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia seat vacated by his longtime mentor Abner J. Mikva. Justice Brennan, for whom Garland clerked, recommended Garland for the position in a letter to Clinton. The American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously gave Garland a "well-qualified" committee rating, its highest.
On December 1, 1995, Garland received a hearing regarding the nomination before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In Senate confirmation hearings Garland said that the Supreme Court justices whom he most admired were Justice Brennan, for whom he clerked, and Chief Justice John Marshall. Garland also expressed admiration for the writing style of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.. However, Senate Republicans did not schedule a vote on Garland's confirmation, not because of concerns over Garland's qualifications, but because of a dispute over whether to fill the seat.
After winning the November 1996 presidential election, Clinton renominated Garland on January 7, 1997. Garland's confirmation vote came to the floor of the Republican-controlled Senate on March 19, 1997. He was confirmed in a 76–23 vote and received his judicial commission the next day. The majority of Republican senators voted to confirm Garland, including Senators John McCain, Orrin Hatch, Susan Collins, and Jim Inhofe. Senators Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, and Jeff Sessions were among those who voted against Garland. All of the 23 "no" votes came from Republicans, and all were based "on whether there was even a need for an eleventh seat" on the D.C. Circuit.
Service as chief judge
Garland became chief judge of the D.C. Circuit on February 12, 2013. As chief judge, Garland announced in May 2013 that the D.C. Circuit had unanimously decided to provide the public with same-day audio recordings of oral arguments in the court. As chief judge, Garland was an active member of the Judicial Conference of the United States, and was involved in the formulation of new rules to protect federal judicial branch employees from workplace harassment, which were adopted in the wake of multiple sexual misconduct allegations against Judge Alex Kozinski. Garland's seven-year term as chief judge ended on February 11, 2020, with Judge Sri Srinivasan succeeding him. Garland continued to serve as an active member of the court.
Garland is considered a judicial moderate and a centrist. Garland has been described by Nina Totenberg and Carrie Johnson of NPR as "a moderate liberal, with a definite pro-prosecution bent in criminal cases". Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog, wrote in 2010 that "Judge Garland's record demonstrates that he is essentially the model, neutral judge. He is acknowledged by all to be brilliant. His opinions avoid unnecessary, sweeping pronouncements." Garland has a reputation for collegiality and his opinions rarely draw a dissent. As of 2016, Garland had written just fifteen dissents in his two decades on the court, fewer than his colleague Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote some 17 dissents over the previous decade.
Administrative and environmental law
Garland has tended to favor deference to regulatory agencies. For example, in In re Aiken County (2013), Garland dissented when the court issued mandamus ordering the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to process the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository license. In Americans for Safe Access v. Drug Enforcement Administration (2013), Garland joined a divided court upholding the DEA's classification of marijuana as a Schedule I drug. However, according to Goldstein, in a number of split decisions on environmental law Garland "favored contested EPA regulations and actions when challenged by industry, and in other cases he has accepted challenges brought by environmental groups." In Rancho Viejo, LLC v. Norton (2003), Garland found the arroyo toad was protected by the federal Endangered Species Act. Circuit Judge John Roberts dissented from the denial of rehearing en banc, writing that Congress's interstate commerce power cannot reach "a hapless toad that, for reasons of its own, lives its entire life in California."
Criminal law and whistleblower protection
While on the bench, Garland has shown a tendency to be deferential to the government in criminal cases, siding with prosecutors in ten of the fourteen criminal cases in which he disagreed with a colleague. For example, in United States v. Watson (1999), Garland dissented when the court concluded a prosecutor's closing argument was unduly prejudicial, objecting that a conviction should be reversed for only "the most egregious of these kind of errors." In 2007, Garland dissented when the en banc D.C. Circuit reversed the conviction of a Washington, D.C. police officer who had accepted bribes in an FBI sting operation.
Garland has taken a broad view of whistleblower protection laws, such as the False Claims Act (FCA), which creates a private cause of action against those defrauding the federal government. For example, in United States ex rel. Yesudian v. Howard University (1998), Garland wrote for the court in holding that a plaintiff alleging he had been fired by Howard University for whistleblowing could sue under the FCA for retaliation. In United States ex rel. Totten v. Bombardier Corp. (2004), Garland dissented when the court, in an opinion written by Judge John Roberts, held that the FCA did not apply to false claims submitted to Amtrak because Amtrak is not the government. Roberts justified his narrow reading by citing a book by Circuit Judge Henry Friendly. In dissent, Garland (who like Roberts had clerked for Friendly), cited Friendly's book as supporting the use of legislative intent, writing that Roberts was relying on "'canons' of statutory construction, which serve there as 'cannons' of statutory destruction." Garland's dissent, expressing concerns that the court's ruling would impede the government's ability to pursue false claims cases against federal grantees, is credited with sparking the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009, which eliminated the loophole. During confirmation hearings in 2005, Senator Chuck Grassley sharply questioned Roberts on why he hadn't adopted Garland's reading. Roberts replied, "Any time Judge Garland disagrees, you know you're in a difficult area."
During Garland's tenure, the D.C. Circuit reviewed cases arising from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. In al Odah v. United States (2003), a panel that included Garland unanimously held that federal courts could not hear challenges from Guantanamo detainees. In July 2011, Garland wrote for the unanimous panel when it rejected Guantanamo detainee Moath Hamza Ahmed al Alawi's petition for habeas corpus. In Parhat v. Gates (2008), Garland wrote for a panel that unanimously overturned the Combatant Status Review Tribunal's determination that a captured Uyghur was an enemy combatant. In Saleh v. Titan Corp. (2009), Garland dissented from the court's holding that former Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison could not sue private military contractors who participated in torture and prisoner abuse. Garland wrote that the suit should be allowed to proceed because "no act of Congress and no judicial precedent" immunized the contractors from tort liability, the Federal Tort Claims Act specifically excludes contractors, and tort liability would not interfere with government operations.
According to Goldstein, Garland has "tended to take a broader view" of First Amendment rights. In cases involving the Freedom of Information Act and similar provisions related to government transparency, "Judge Garland's rulings reflect a preference for open government." In ACLU v. CIA (2013), Garland wrote for a panel unanimously rejecting the agency's Glomar response and ordering it to process the ACLU's FOIA request regarding targeted killings by CIA drones. In Cause of Action v. FTC (2015), Garland wrote for a panel unanimously overturning the agency's limitation on FOIA fee waivers to large news outlets.
In Lee v. Department of Justice (2005), Garland dissented from the denial of rehearing en banc after the D.C. Circuit affirmed the district court's order holding reporters in contempt of court for refusing to testify about their anonymous sources during the Wen Ho Lee investigation. Garland wrote that the panel had erred in failing to "weigh the public interest in protecting the reporter's sources against the private interest in compelling disclosure" and that the decision "undermined the Founders' intention to protect the press 'so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people.'" In Initiative & Referendum Institute v. U.S. Postal Service (2005), Garland wrote for the court, holding that a U.S. Postal Service regulation banning signature-gathering for petitions at post offices violated the First Amendment. Garland found the regulation to be facially overbroad and not narrowly tailored.
In cases involving campaign finance reform laws, Garland has applied Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission when he believed that he was compelled to do so, but he has not sought to extend its holding. In Wagner v. Federal Election Commission (2015), Garland wrote for the unanimous en banc D.C. Circuit in upholding a prohibition on campaign contributions from federal contractors because of the governmental interest in preventing corruption. In National Association of Manufacturers v. Taylor (2009), Garland wrote for the court in a decision upholding the constitutionality of lobbyist disclosure requirements under the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. Professor Rick Hasen, an election-law expert, writes that Garland's opinions on election law are characterized by careful application of precedent and indicate that Garland believes in reasonable regulation.
Garland has addressed a number of religious freedom cases while on the D.C. Circuit, although several of these have been decided on procedural grounds. In 2002, Garland joined a unanimous court in ruling for two federal prisoners who were denied the right to consume communion wine. In 2010, Garland wrote the decision for a unanimous court in favor of an Interior Department employee who brought a religious-discrimination claim after the Interior Department refused to allow her to work weekdays rather than Sunday, when she wished to attend church and Bible study.
In 2007, Garland voted in favor of en banc review of the D.C. Circuit's panel decision in Parker v. District of Columbia invalidating the D.C. handgun ban. The Supreme Court subsequently affirmed this invalidation 5–4 in an opinion by Justice Scalia.
In Alexander v. Daley (2003), Garland joined a decision (authored by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly), rejecting a challenge brought by District of Columbia residents seeking D.C. congressional voting rights.
In Hutchins v. District of Columbia (1999), Garland concurred with four other D.C. Circuit judges (en banc) that D.C.'s Juvenile Curfew Act of 1995 implicated at least some significant right of minors. He joined parts of a plurality opinion written by Judge Laurence Silberman that upheld the juvenile curfew under intermediate scrutiny and a vagueness challenge. Garland also joined the part of Judge Judith W. Rogers's opinion (concurring in part and dissenting in part) holding that a fundamental right to intrastate travel exists.
Supreme Court nomination
Garland was considered twice to fill vacated seats on the United States Supreme Court in 2009 and 2010, before finally being nominated in 2016 by President Barack Obama for the seat left vacant by the death of conservative Associate Justice Antonin Scalia.
2009 and 2010 considerations
In 2009, following the announcement by Justice David Souter that he would retire, Garland was considered as one of nine finalists for the post, which ultimately went to Sonia Sotomayor, then a judge of the Second Circuit.
After the April 2010 announcement by Justice John Paul Stevens that he would retire, Garland was again widely seen as a leading contender for a nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States. President Obama interviewed Garland, among others, for the vacancy. In May 2010, Senator Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, said he would help Obama if Garland was nominated, calling Garland "a consensus nominee" and predicting that Garland would win Senate confirmation with bipartisan support. Obama nominated Solicitor General of the United States Elena Kagan, who was confirmed in August 2010.
Scalia vacancy and 2016 nomination
On February 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. Later that day, Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement that they would not consider any nominee put forth by Obama, and that a Supreme Court nomination should be left to the next President of the United States. President Obama responded that he intended to "fulfill my constitutional duty to appoint a judge to our highest court," and that there was no "well established tradition" that a president could not fill a Supreme Court vacancy during the U.S. President's last year in office.
In early March 2016, The New York Times reported that Garland was being vetted by the Obama Administration as a potential nominee. A week later, Garland was named as one of three judges on the President's "short list" (along with Judge Sri Srinivasan, also of the D.C. Circuit, and Judge Paul J. Watford of the Ninth Circuit). Obama interviewed all three leading contenders, as well as two others who were being considered: Judge Jane L. Kelly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Soon afterward, Senator Orrin Hatch, President pro tempore of the United States Senate and the most senior Republican Senator, predicted that President Obama would "name someone the liberal Democratic base wants" even though he "could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man." Five days later, on March 16, Obama formally nominated Garland to the vacant post of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Garland had more federal judicial experience than any other Supreme Court nominee in history, and was the oldest Supreme Court nominee since Lewis F. Powell Jr. in 1971. The American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary unanimously rated Garland "well-qualified" (the committee's highest rating) to sit on the Supreme Court.
Under Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Senate's Republican majority refused to consider Garland's nomination, holding "no hearings, no votes, no action whatsoever" on the nomination. McConnell's categorical refusal to hold hearings on Garland's nomination was described by political scientists and legal scholars as unprecedented, McConnell's choice to lead a Republican blockade of the nomination was described as a "culmination of [his] confrontational style," and an example of constitutional hardball. Yascha Mounk called it a "blatant abuse of constitutional norms."
After a period of 293 days, Garland's nomination expired on January 3, 2017, at the end of the 114th Congress. It was the longest confirmation delay of a Supreme Court nominee in history, far exceeding the 125-day delay faced by the ultimately confirmed Justice Louis Brandeis in 1916. On January 31, 2017, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the Court vacancy. On April 7, 2017, the Senate confirmed Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court.
McConnell went on to boast about stopping Garland's nomination, saying in August 2016, "one of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.'" In April 2018, McConnell said the decision not to act upon the Garland nomination was "the most consequential decision I've made in my entire public career".
Attorney General (2021–present)
Nomination and confirmation
President-elect Joe Biden selected Garland for the position of United States attorney general, with news of the selection coming on January 6, 2021. He was formally nominated by Biden on January 20, after Biden took office. In Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings, Garland vowed to oversee vigorous prosecution of those who stormed the United States Capitol, and other domestic extremists, drawing on his experience prosecuting the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing. Garland said it was likely the Biden administration would place a moratorium on use of the federal death penalty and expressed reservations about the death penalty in light of the "almost randomness or arbitrariness of its application." He pledged to protect equal justice under law and reinvigorate the DOJ Civil Rights Division, which languished under the Trump administration. Garland affirmed that the Justice Department would remain independent under his leadership.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 15–7 to advance Garland's nomination to the Senate floor, and on March 10, the Senate confirmed Garland's nomination by a vote of 70–30. He was sworn in on March 11, 2021, by Assistant Attorney General for Administration Lee Lofthus.
In April 2021, Russia imposed sanctions against Garland, including prohibiting him from entering Russia. This was in retaliation for U.S. expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats, a sanction imposed by the United States against Russia for its SolarWinds hack, aggression against Ukraine, and interference in the 2020 U.S. election.
During Garland's tenure as AG, the Justice Department has emphasized protection of civil rights. Garland rescinded a Trump administration policy (imposed by Jeff Sessions) that curtailed DOJ investigations into police department misconduct ("pattern-and-practice" investigations) and restricted the use of consent decrees to reform police departments. On June 11, 2021, Garland pledged to double the Department's enforcement staff for protecting the right to vote, in response to state voting restrictions passed after the 2020 United States presidential election and on June 25, 2021, Garland announced that the Department of Justice was suing the state of Georgia, alleging that its newly-passed restrictions on voting targeted Black Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Garland and his wife, Lynn, have been married since 1987. Lynn Garland's grandfather, Samuel Irving Rosenman, was a justice of the New York Supreme Court (a trial-level court) and a special counsel to presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. Garland and his wife have two daughters, Rebecca and Jessica; both are graduates of Yale University.
Garland is a resident of Bethesda, Maryland. Financial disclosure forms in 2016 indicated that Garland's net worth at the time was between $6 million and $23 million. Garland is partially colorblind so he uses a list to match his suits and ties.
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- James F. Fitzpatrick & Merrick Garland, "The Court, 'Veto' and Airbags", The New York Times, August 20, 1983, at 21.
- Student Note, "Commercial Speech, Supreme Court, 1975 Term", 90 Harv. L. Rev. 142 (1976).
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Abner J. Mikva
| Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
Ketanji Brown Jackson
David B. Sentelle
| Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
| United States Attorney General
|U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)|
as Secretary of Defense
| Order of precedence of the United States
as Attorney General
as Secretary of the Interior
|U.S. presidential line of succession|
as Secretary of Defense
| 7th in line
as Attorney General
as Secretary of the Interior