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Merrick Garland Is Not Your Liberal Firebrand

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After roughly half a year on the job so far, Attorney General Merrick Garland is acting like a relatively normal attorney general. He hasn’t yet made moves that suggest he’s a fervent partisan ideologue or a staunch loyalist for whoever happens to be the current president, a sharp change from his immediate predecessors. For some progressives and supporters of President Joe Biden, however, “relatively normal” isn’t good enough.

Consider the public blowback that Garland’s team has received for some of its recent decisions. Late last month the Justice Department announced it would appeal a federal judge’s order to release a memo prepared for former Attorney General Bill Barr in the Russia investigation. The memo addresses a central legal question in the Mueller report: whether former president Donald Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice. Trump’s critics had hoped Garland would shed more light on his predecessor’s refusal to prosecute Trump, but to no avail.

The Barr memo case isn’t the only one that’s drawn criticism from progressives in recent weeks. My colleague Melissa Gira Grant questioned whether the Biden administration was committed to defending LGBTQ rights after the Justice Department’s moves in a Title IX case involving Christian higher-ed schools. Climate activists have taken issue with the department’s stance in cases involving pipeline construction. And those who’ve criticized Trump on anti-corruption grounds are frustrated that Garland hasn’t yet handed over Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee, which first subpoenaed them more than two years ago.

To many, these actions may be jarring, especially given the damage caused by Trump’s corruption and those who enabled it at the DOJ. Surely the priority for the new administration would be to reverse the errors of the last four years with a series of assertive, public decisions. But this would be far out of character for Garland. His actions are far more consistent with a leader who wants to retrench the DOJ in its traditional, institutional role as the semi-independent defender of the executive branch. Garland may believe that, in the long run, this will undo the damage Trump and his cronies........

© New Republic

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