President-elect Joe Biden introduced federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland and other senior prosecutors as key members of his new Justice Department on Thursday.
Garland, whom Biden had nominated as his attorney general, would lead a team of legal professionals with extensive experience in and around the Justice Department and significant experience in civil rights law.
However, following the pro-Trump uprising on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Biden began his speech on Thursday by repeating who his candidates will serve.
“We need to restore the DOJ’s honor, integrity and independence to this nation that has been so badly damaged,” said Biden.
“I want to be clear to those in charge of this department who you are going to serve: you are not going to work for me. You are not the lawyer for the president or the vice-president. Your loyalty is not to me,” he added. “It’s about the law, the constitution, the people of this nation.”
Many of Biden’s candidates agreed with this sentiment and called for a return to an independent, apolitical Ministry of Justice.
Garland, whose previous appointment of President Barack Obama to the US Supreme Court was blocked by Senate Republicans, spoke immediately after the president-elect.
“The essence of the rule of law is that there are cases that are treated equally: there is no rule for Democrats and one for Republicans, one rule for friends, another for enemies, one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless. ” he said.
“These principles – ensuring the rule of law and realizing the promise of equal justice – are the great principles on which the Justice Department was founded and which it must always stand by,” added Garland.
Federal Judge Merrick Garland makes remarks after he was appointed US Attorney General by President-elect Joe Biden on January 7, 2021 at the Queen Theater in Wilmington, Delaware.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images
Biden’s appointment of Garland, a political centrist and judge, likely reflects the president-elect’s focus on isolating the department from partisanship under President Donald Trump, who frequently pressured his attorneys-general to investigate personal grievances, including making false allegations one far widespread election fraud.
It is believed that the president’s allegations, though without evidence, helped spark and siege the violent unrest on Capitol Hill the day before.
Biden’s demands for independent and tireless law enforcement could be quickly put to the test if the president-elect’s son, Hunter Biden, is under criminal investigation.
The younger Biden announced last month that his taxes were being investigated by the US Attorney’s Office in Delaware, a unit of the DOJ.
Although both father and son have said they are confident Hunter didn’t do anything wrong, ethics officials are likely to investigate the probe’s duration and scope.
Lisa Monaco, Biden’s election as assistant attorney general and former Obama counter-terrorism advisor, said restoring the division’s full pursuit of justice after the past four years was central.
“The soul of the Justice Department resides in the integrity of its professionals, in the independence of its investigative and law enforcement activities, and in the principles it uses to uphold the ideal of justice in America,” she said.
“What is most critical in the coming days, I think, is not a challenge at all, but an opportunity,” added Monaco. “For this team and for the career professionals that make up the Justice Department to reassert its norms and traditions. Doing justice without fear or favor.”
Biden appointed Vanita Gupta, a professional civil rights attorney and judicial alum, as associate attorney general. As a child of Indian immigrants, Gupta shared a story from her childhood when she first discovered the U.S. judiciary was more likely to fail people and color communities.
She remembered how, as a four-year-old, she and her family were forced to leave a McDonald’s after a group of skinheads labeled them racist slurs and threw food to their mother and grandmother.
Vanita Gupta, US President-elect Joe Biden’s candidate for assistant attorney general, speaks as Biden announces his Justice Department nominations at his interim headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware on Jan. 7, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
“There are many agencies in the federal government, but actually only one that bears the name of a value. Because of that name, that value of justice, we know the department bears a unique fee,” she said.
“At best it is the keeper of a sacred promise. It is the promise of equal justice for all,” added Gupta. “But if we are given up, we will dismantle our democracy and sow the divisions we have come to know all too well.”
The speeches were rounded off by Kristen Clarke, the candidate to head the DOJ’s civil rights division. Clarke has previously served as a Justice Department attorney on police misconduct, hate crime and human trafficking cases.
Clarke said the nation is at a “crossroads” and if confirmed it would try to close the door on discrimination through civil rights law enforcement.
“The Department, and especially the Civil Rights Department, has always had a special place in my heart. The call for equal justice under the law unites us as a nation,” she said.