Of all the high profile members of the Biden administration, Attorney General Merrick Garland has taken the most heat by far – and most of it has come from liberal activists who are deeply upset at him for not simply fixing everything overnight with a magic wand. There has been nonstop griping about how Garland is handling things, along with frequent calls for his resignation or firing, as if President Biden would actually do such a thing.
Back in the real world, where the Attorney General’s job is that of a lawyer and not that of a publicist or cheerleader, Merrick Garland has been doing his job quite solidly. This past week in particular has seen quite a bit of vindication for him – not that the “magic wand” crowd would notice.
For instance, when Texas enacted a hideous anti-abortion law, liberal activists slammed Garland for not immediately calling a press conference and setting his hair on fire. But in reality that’s not how anything gets done, and instead Garland had his DOJ file suit this week against Texas, with a painstakingly thorough legal case that stands a good chance of chipping away at the anti-abortion law in court.
Garland has also been heavily criticized for allowing the DOJ to continue representing Donald Trump in the civil suit filed by the courageous E. Jean Carroll. This move doesn’t mean that Garland wants Trump to win, or even that Garland thinks the government should be representing Trump. It’s just that because the DOJ was already representing Trump in this case before Garland took office, he apparently didn’t feel that there was a legal basis for removing the government from Trump’s representation. In any case, the courts ruled this week that Carroll’s case against Trump will proceed next month. She will ultimately win, as she should – and Garland’s handling of the matter won’t end up standing in the way.
Then there’s the nonstop griping about the fact that Merrick Garland didn’t unilaterally shut down the Durham probe that Bill Barr set up to investigate the origins of the Mueller probe. But yesterday we saw that Durham doesn’t actually have anything, after he merely ended up indicting someone you’ve never heard of for having given inconsistent testimony years ago. If Garland had shut down the Durham probe, it would have created controversy and allowed Trump supporters to insist that it was all a coverup. Instead Garland has simply let the Durham probe quietly sputter out, in a manner that mainstream America will never even hear about or care about.
Of course none of this is going to fully satisfy those liberal activists who are convinced that the Attorney General is supposed to be a wizard with a magic wand, or a cheerleader with a podium, or some combination of both. But in reality the Attorney General is a nation’s lawyer. There’s a way you win legal battles, and it has very little to do with performative theater or the plot of a Harry Potter movie.
But in the end, Merrick Garland will ultimately be judged based on the results he’s achieved, not the amount of foot stomping he’s done. Some liberal activists want Garland to be more like a Bill Barr for their side. They should consider that Barr’s tenure consisted of magic wand stunts like the Durham probe, which ultimately went nowhere and accomplished nothing. Barr was mostly ineffective, even for his own side, because he spent his time trying to impress Trump instead of relying on sound legal strategies that could actually deliver real change. Fortunately, Garland isn’t nearly as interested in mugging for publicity. Instead he’s just doing his actual job.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report