Biden’s Pick for Attorney General Recalls His Family’s Experience Fleeing Antisemitism

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Judge Merrick Garland appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing today.
Judge Merrick Garland appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearing today.Credit: J. Scott Applewhite,AP

WASHINGTON – Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s attorney general nominee, emotionally recalled his family’s history with antisemitism and how it will inform his work if his appointment is confirmed.

“I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us,” Garland said during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. “I feel an obligation to the country to pay back. This is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back. 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 to be that kind of attorney general.”

Garland, a federal appeals judge, said his first briefing as attorney general would be focused on the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and promised to provide prosecutors with whatever resources necessary. “I will 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 said in his opening statement.

Garland had previously brought up his family heritage after former U.S. President Barack Obama nominated him for the Supreme Court in 2016, before the Senate Republican majority unprecedently refused to hold a hearing or a vote on Garland’s nomination.

“My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here. My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement at the border of western Russia and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, fleeing antisemitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” Garland said at the time.

During the hearing, Garland defended Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Divison. Republican Sen. Mike Lee from Utah resurfaced accusations that Clarke emboldened antisemites by hosting a professor who made antisemitic comments while she was in college.

Garland responded: “You know my views about antisemitism. No one needs to question those. I’m a pretty good judge of what an antisemite is, and I do not believe that she is an antisemite, and I do not believe that she is discriminatory in any sense.”

Garland and Sen. Jon Ossoff, the Democrat from Georgia, noted their similar family histories, with Garland joking that “they probably knew each other.”

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