The decision to appoint Judge Garland appeared similar to one that Gerald R. Ford made in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Mr. Ford nominated Edward H. Levi, a university president whose political leanings were unclear, to take over to restore the Justice Department’s credibility. Democrats and Republicans later praised Mr. Levi’s ability to apolitically repair the department.
Judge Garland will likely face pressure to also try to steer the department’s priorities from the Trump administration’s focus on immigration and violent crime to issues that Democrats have typically prioritized, like policing overhauls and voting rights. But Judge Garland will also have to make decisions about how to handle the tax investigation of Mr. Biden’s son Hunter. Republicans, still angry over the investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, have called for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the matter.
Mr. Garland, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was nominated by Barack Obama in 2016 to fill the position left on the Supreme Court by the death of Antonin Scalia. While the nomination dismayed some liberals, Senate Republicans — led by the majority leader, Mitch McConnell — refused to vote on his nomination, saying that it should not be filled in an election year.
Ultimately, President Trump filled the vacancy with Judge Neil Gorsuch, a conservative in the mold of Justice Scalia.
Judge Garland’s career was dramatically affected by the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people. Mr. Garland, a Justice Department official at the time, played a direct hand in the Clinton administration’s response.
President Bill Clinton appointed Judge Garland to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1997, and he served as its chief judge from 2013 to February 2020. Though the court is often called the second most important in the nation, after the Supreme Court, its idiosyncratic docket is dominated by cases concerning regulatory agencies and tends to include few major controversies on social issues.
On the court, Judge Garland earned praise from across the political spectrum for the exceptional quality of his opinions, which are considered models of the judicial craft — methodically reasoned, clear, attentive to precedent and tightly tied the language of the relevant statutes and regulations.