WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday advanced Merrick Garland’s nomination to serve as President Joe Biden’s attorney general.
Garland’s nomination was reported out of the Democratic-led committee along bipartisan lines in a 15-7 vote.
Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking member of the commitee, as well as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas, and Thom Tillis of North Carolina, joined all Democrats on the panel in support of the nomination.
The seven Republicans who voted against Garland were Sens. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, Mike Lee of Utah, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, John Kennedy of Louisiana, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee.
The committee’s action comes a week after Garland testified before the panel about how he would lead the Justice Department if confirmed by the Senate, assuring senators that he would protect the department’s independence and not allow politics to interfere with the job.
In comments before the vote, committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said of the nominee that “America will be better with this kind of person leading the Justice Department.”
Grassley, announcing his intention to support Garland, said a moment later, “I plan to vote for him, I hope my trust is not misplaced.”
Other Republicans were harsher. Cruz, for his part, claimed that Garland “refused to answer virtually anything” during his confirmation hearings — an assertion that Durbin disputed.
Committee member John Cornyn, R-Texas, told reporters last week that Garland is “a straight shooter when it comes to questions of law.” He said “he’s had an incredible career” and “seems like a fundamentally decent human being.”
Other Republicans on the committee, including some possible 2024 presidential contenders like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., were less enthusiastic and expressed strong reservations about Garland.
Garland emphasized in his testimony that if confirmed, he would “supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government.”
Garland, who helped investigate and prosecute the Oklahoma City bombers in the 1990s, said that the Department of Justice must do everything in its power to ensure that Americans and democratic institutions are protected from such extremists.
In response to a. question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Garland said he would not rule out investigating those who funded, organized, led and otherwise aided the attack.
“We begin with the people on the ground, and we work our way up to those who are involved and further involved, and we will pursue these leads wherever they take us,” Garland said.
During his confirmation hearing last week, Garland stressed that he would protect the independence of the Justice Department from White House political interference in investigations. Former President Donald Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, was frequently accused by federal judges and others of putting Trump’s interests ahead of the department’s.
When his nomination was announced in January, Garland said he would strive to make sure that “like cases are treated alike, that there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans, one rule for friends, the other for foes.”
The confirmation of Garland, 68, comes after Republicans opted not to consider his nomination by former President Barack Obama to the Supreme Court in 2016. Garland has served as a judge on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals since 1997 and was its chief judge from 2013 to 2020.