Garland defends school board memo in face of intense Republican criticism  

by mcardinal

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News


Merrick Garland’s hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday turned sour even before the questioning began. Throughout the proceeding, the Attorney General faced a barrage of sharp criticism, condemnation, and calls for his resignation. 

Republicans on the committee took exception to Garland’s lack of cooperation on investigations into President Joe Biden’s son, but the most pointed barbs were reserved for Garland’s Oct. 4 memo instructing the Department of Justice to investigate violence against school board members, teachers, and school officials.

At the time, Garland stated the memo was meant to curb an “increase in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence” against these individuals, but Republicans have decried the memo as a veiled attempt to silence parents on matters such as mask mandates, vaccinations, and the teaching of critical race theory. 

“That is a poisonous, chilling effect,” Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said. “This kind of looks like something that would come out of a communist country.”

Garland, who repeatedly stated that parents had a right to voice their opinions, was emphatic that his intention was not to “sic the FBI on parents,” adding, “The only thing we are concerned about is violence and threats of violence against school officials, school teachers, school staff.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked Garland if he considered “the chilling effect that this sort of threat of federal prosecution would have on parents’ exercise of their constitutional rights to be involved in their children’s education?” 

“I wanted the memorandum to assure people that we recognize the rights of spirited debate,” Garland said. “I don’t believe it’s reasonable to read this memorandum as chilling anyone’s rights about the threats of violence and it expressly recognizes the constitutional right to make arguments about your children’s education.”

Democrats rallied to Garland’s defense over the memo. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois said there was evidence of actual violence erupting at school board meetings and urged his fellow committee members to “type ‘school board violence’ into your computer and take a look at what’s happening.”

The chairman and attorney general’s assurances did little to quell a barrage of outrage from Republicans. 

“There is a difference between law and politics, and General Garland, you know the difference between law and politics,” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said. “Law is based on facts. It is impartial. It is not used as a tool of political retribution. This memo was not law. This memo was politics.”

At one point, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) stated he thanked God that Garland had not been added to the Supreme Court in late 2016. Cotton’s questions were as fiery as they were brief. 

Following a question about Garland’s plans to investigate people who rioted at Black Lives Matter rallies in 2020 – Garland stated such investigations had begun prior to his confirmation – Cotton urged Garland to resign and then stormed out of the hearing. 

Prior to the start of questioning, Grassley used his prepared opening statement to offer the most expansive critique of Garland. 

“The last thing the Justice Department and FBI need is a very vague memo to unleash their power — especially when they’ve shown zero interest in holding their own accountable,” Grassley said of the memo. 

The Iowa senator also accused Garland of allowing his office to become politicized, refusing to produce documents that would allow Republican members of the committee to provide oversight of the DOJ. 

“Today, I can say with confidence that under your leadership the Department has failed – across the board – to comply with this committee’s Republican oversight requests,” Grassley said.  “In contrast, you’ve provided my Democratic colleagues with thousands of pages of material.”

In his prepared opening statement, Garland focused on the ways he’s sought to uphold his threefold promise to uphold the rule of law, keep the country safe, and protect civil rights.