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OPINION

Republicans leave Garland — and justice reforms — waiting. Again

It’s a galling move by the Senate GOP as Biden tries to set up his administration, and a clear sign that the kind of obstruction Obama faced from Republicans will probably await Biden at every turn.

Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by President Biden to be attorney general, delivers remarks at The Queen theater January 7, in Wilmington, Delaware.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

For Merrick Garland, the old legal maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” has its own, special meaning — courtesy of Senate Republicans. But this time, it’s not just Garland who has been left waiting, but also crucial reforms to the nation’s beleaguered justice system.

It’s been nearly five years since Garland was denied the opportunity to become a Supreme Court justice, due to delay tactics employed by then-Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP Senate caucus, who were citing a made-up “principle” that justices cannot be appointed to the court in an election year.

Now the justice being delayed is for the Justice Department itself, which will have to wait — perhaps weeks — for a Senate-confirmed leader while Garland, President Biden’s attorney general nominee, is held up again by the GOP. It took weeks for McConnell to come to an agreement with new Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer to pass an organizing resolution governing the 50-50 Senate split. That prevented Senate Democrats, who hold a majority via Vice President Harris’s tie-breaking vote, from assuming their rightful committee chairmanships until this week.

But before handing over his gavel as Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina — who was also a key figure in the blockade of Garland’s Supreme Court nomination — refused to set Garland’s attorney general confirmation hearing for next week.

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Denying Democrats’ request for a hearing to begin Monday, Graham used next Tuesday’s scheduled start of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial as a stalling tactic.

“A one-day hearing as you are proposing the day before the impeachment trial of a former president is insufficient,” Graham wrote in a letter to Senator Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who now chairs the committee.

Republicans said confirmation hearings for Garland and the rest of Biden’s remaining cabinet nominees will resume after the impeachment trial and budget process are done.

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It’s a galling move by the Senate GOP as Biden tries to set up his administration, and a clear sign that the kind of obstruction the Obama administration faced from Republicans — recall that McConnell’s top stated priority in 2010 was making Obama a one-term president — will probably await Biden at every turn.

The timing could not be worse. Once confirmed, Garland will have before him the herculean task of reforming a Justice Department decimated by Trump’s autocratic instincts.

For years, public trust has been eroded by a Justice Department publicly at odds with itself and gravely wounded by former attorney general William Barr’s loyalty to Trump over all else, from Barr’s rejection of the DOJ’s own inspector general’s finding that there are ample grounds for the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to his misleading effort to downplay special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the matter. Restoring the public’s faith in the rule of law after Barr spent years undermining it will take time, and that time is being wasted while Garland finds himself, once again, in confirmation purgatory.

Garland will also have to overhaul the climate within a Justice Department that was led by an attorney general who claimed that systemic racism in American policing was a myth — at a time when Americans were taking to the streets by the hundreds of thousands in the middle of a pandemic to demand justice after the killing of George Floyd.

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The presumed new attorney general will have to direct the focus and resources of its criminal and civil rights departments away from antifa and toward the actual domestic terror problem that the department’s own data have pointed to for years: violent right-wing extremists and white nationalists.

Then there is the need to reform the sentencing and clemency systems, end mass incarceration and federal executions, de-politicize US attorneys offices, and usher in other crucial reforms Biden has promised.

On top of all that, Garland will also be tasked with bringing to justice the insurrectionists who mounted the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 that left five people dead. How ironic that Republicans are using the impeachment trial that is meant to hold Trump accountable for his role in inciting the riot to keep Garland from taking his position to helm that effort.

But sadly, we’ve seen this movie before. As Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii put it in a Feb. 2 tweet: “Five years ago, Senate Republicans blocked Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. And now, Senate Republicans are holding up his nomination as attorney general. Today really is Groundhog Day.”