On Monday, questioned by Utah GOP senator Mike Lee at his confirmation before the Senate Judiciary Committee to become the Attorney General of the United States, Judge Merrick Garland refused to condemn positions Lee alleged had been taken by Vanita Gupta, who has been nominated to be Associate Attorney General, as well as Kristen Clarke, who has been nominated to serve as Assistant Attorney General for civil rights.
The exchange between the two men is below:
Lee: I’m going to start with some questions that can be yes or no; if they require more than that you can say yes with this or that minor caveat but I’d prefer a yes or no if you can provide one of these. Do you believe individuals who advocate for the rights of unborn human beings are rendered unfit for public office by virtue of having engaged in such advocacy?”
Lee: Do you believe that efforts to purge voter rolls of individuals who have either died or have left the state in question or to require voter identification are racially discriminatory and an assault on voting rights?
Garland: This one is one I can’t answer yes or no because you’re asking about motivations of individuals, some of whom may have discriminatory purpose and some of whom have no discriminatory purpose.
Lee: Okay. Okay, I think that answers my question there because I guess what I’m asking is does an individual without knowing more than that, is there anything about those comments or support for those positions that in and of themselves would make that person a racist or an assault on voting rights?
Garland: Again, there’s nothing about the comment itself but there’s such a thing as circumstantial evidence obviously and if there’s enormously disparate impact of things that somebody continues to propose, it’s not unreasonable to draw conclusions from that. The mere fact of the statement, no.
Lee: Do you believe Republicans in the United States, and by Republicans I mean as a whole, are determined to leave our communities to the mercy of people and institutions driven by hate, bigotry and fear of any threat to the status quo.
Garland: I don’t make generalizations about members of political parties; I would never do that.
Lee: I appreciate that and wouldn’t expect otherwise. The reason I raise these ones is these are questions that have been drawn from comments made by Vanita Gupta, who’s been nominated to be the associate attorney general, has advocated for each of these positions.
Garland: Well, Senator, I know Vanita Gupta now quite well; I didn’t know her before, but since the nomination, I’ve gotten a chance to talk with her and speak with her. I have to tell you, I regard her as a person of great integrity and a person who is dedicated to the mission of the department and particularly equal justice under law.
Lee: I’m not asking you to weigh in on her as a person; I’m just talking about the comments. Let’s move on. Would an individual’s past statements, statements in the past, as an adult, declaring that one racial group is superior to another, would statements like that be relevant to an evaluation of whether such a person should be put in charge of running the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division?
Garland: Well, Senator, I read in the last few days these allegations about Kristen Clarke, who I’ve also gotten to know, who I also trust, who I believe is a person of integrity, whose views of the Civil Rights division I have discussed with her, and they are in line with my own. I have every reason to want her; she is an experienced former line prosecutor of hate crimes and we need somebody like that to be running the —
Lee: I’m asking about the statement; I’m not asking about her as a person; I’m asking about the statement. In the abstract, would someone who has made that comment, would that comment itself be relevant to the question whether that person, having made that statement, should be put in charge of running the Civil Rights division?
Garland: All I can tell you is I’ve had many conversations with her about her views about the Civil Rights division and what kind of matter she would investigate
Lee: What about anti-Semitic comments, would those be relevant to someone wanting to run the Civil Rights division?
Garland; You know my views about anti-Semitism; no one needs to question those.
Lee: I’m not questioning your—
Garland: I know you’re not, but I want you to know I’m a pretty good judge of what an anti-Semite is, and I do not believe that she is an anti-Semite and I do not believe she is discriminatory in any sense.
Lee: Tell me this: Judge, you are a man of integrity and one who honors and respects the laws. What assurances can you give us, as one who has been nominated to serve as the Attorney General of the United States, that you, as confirmed as Attorney General of the United States, what assurances can you give Americans who are Republican, who are pro-life, who are religious people who are members of certain minority groups, in short, half, or more than half of the country, telling them that the U.S. Department of Justice, if you’re confirmed, will protect them if Department of Justice leaders have condoned radical positions like those ones that I’ve described?
Garland: I’ll say it again: I don’t believe that either Vanita or Kristen condone those positions and I have complete faith in them, but we are a leadership team, along with Alisa Monaco that will run the Department, and the final decision is mine. The buck stops with me, as harry Truman said, I will assure the people you’re talking about I am a strong believer in religious liberty and there will no be any discrimination under my watch.
I was disappointed that Judge Garland declined to condemn dangerous, radical positions previously taken by fellow DOJ nominees, Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke. pic.twitter.com/ME3NVfFbt9
— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) February 22, 2021