President-elect Joe Biden announced that he would nominate D.C. Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland as U.S. Attorney General. Garland, likely to be confirmed with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate, will also likely be flanked by three women who will lead core elements of the Department of Justice.
In the wake of a mob of Trump supporters storming the Capitol on Wednesday, Americans will look to the next Justice Department and the nation’s federal prosecutors to investigate and possibly level charges against insurrectionists. Some U.S. attorneys have already promised to bring charges against citizens from their jurisdictions who traveled to D.C. to join Wednesday’s attacks.
“They will restore the independence of the Department so it serves the interests of the people not a presidency, rebuild public trust in the rule of law, and work tirelessly to ensure a more fair and equitable justice system,” Biden said of his picks in a statement Thursday.
Garland was former President Barack Obama’s selection to fill the Supreme Court seat left empty when Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. However, the Republican-controlled Senate refused to hold a confirmation vote until Obama was out of office.
If confirmed, Garland will inherit a department charged with conducting broad police reform following the racial unrest in 2020, which was heightened by the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. There will also be the question of the federal death penalty, which Biden has promised to end. Garland did not participate in the recent court decision out of the D.C. Court of Appeals that denied Lisa Montgomery, the only woman on federal death row, an en banc hearing to stay her execution on January 12.
The other three Department of Justice nominees will also need Senate confirmation.
In addition to Garland, Biden selected Lisa Monaco as deputy attorney general. Monaco spent 15 years at the Department of Justice before Obama appointed her as assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism in 2013. Monaco became the first woman assistant attorney general for National Security in 2011 upon Senate confirmation. Following the 9/11 terrorism attacks, she worked with then FBI director Robert Mueller as chief of staff. She is currently a fellow and professor at New York University School of Law.
If confirmed, Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a civil rights lobbying outfit, will serve as associate attorney general. Gupta served as the chief civil rights prosecutor under Obama from October 2014 to January 2017 as the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. During her tenure, she challenged North Carolina’s “bathroom bill,” which sought to ban transgender people from using the bathroom that matched their gender identity. Under Gupta, the Department of Justice and Department of Education issued joint guidance to schools about how to support transgender students and eliminate sex discrimination in shared facilities like bathrooms.
Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, has been nominated to be the assistant attorney general for civil rights. This week, Clarke’s organization sued The Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group, for attacking and vandalizing the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic Black church, on December 12, 2020.
“Black churches and other religious institutions have a long and ugly history of being targeted by white supremacists in racist and violent attacks meant to intimidate and create fear,” Clarke said in a statement. “Our lawsuit aims to hold those who engage in such action accountable.”
Clarke got her start as a civil rights attorney within the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department as a federal prosecutor handling cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, human trafficking, voting rights and redistricting. Clarke previously headed the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she focused on LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality, disability rights, reproductive access, redlining, and other justice-oriented issues. The Biden-Harris administration outlined racial justice as one of the core tenets of their administration.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said in a statement that she looks forward to working closely with these nominees who she said will help rebuild trust in the Justice Department.
“Fidelity to the rule of law forms the bedrock of America’s democracy. And in the face of both the damage that has been done to our Justice Department and our country’s long-overdue reckoning on racial injustice, these are the right leaders to meet this moment,” Harris said.
Sally Yates, a longtime federal prosecutor and Obama appointee to the Justice Department was also among those reportedly considered for attorney general. Yates was with the DOJ for 27 years, rising through the ranks first as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
After serving as deputy attorney general for two years, she became acting attorney general once Loretta Lynch stepped down upon President Donald Trump’s inauguration. Yates served for 10 days before Trump fired her for ordering the Justice Department not to help with legal challenges to Trump’s January 2017 immigration order that immigrants and refugees from countries with Muslim majorities.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Kristen Clarke’s role in the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.