In a fascinating conversation with Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Garland explained the phenomenon of systemic bias in the criminal justice system and its impact on scores of other aspects of American life. This moving exchange on Garland’s motives for public service generated the most attention:
However, more thought-provoking was his colloquy on race:
The simple example of disparities in sentencing and incarceration for nonviolent marijuana charges opened an informed discussion of the myriad ramifications for Black Americans (e.g., access to college education, jobs, credit, business licenses). That, in turn, made the faux outrage from Republican Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.) over being accused of implicit bias all the more ridiculous. Garland patiently explained that it is not an insult or accusation but a description of the human condition:
Garland’s implacable demeanor and refusal to condescend or scold Kennedy worked in his favor, making Kennedy appear all the more thick-headed in his unwillingness to recognize the bias that affects virtually every aspect of American life, from health and longevity to housing to wealth to criminal justice to voting to employment.
In comparing these exchanges, it was easy to see which party is simply encouraging White grievance (Republican senators would have their base believe, “They think you’re all racists!”) and which is addressing a serious and pervasive issue in American society.
Kennedy’s embarrassing display was surpassed only by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who while questioning Garland claimed that two other Justice Department nominees — who happen to be women of color — had made antisemitic comments (though in doing so, Lee misquoted and took both of those nominees out of context). Garland, who is Jewish, calmly replied, “You know my views on antisemitism. No one needs to question those.”
It is no secret the Republican Party has ceased to be a party that cares about governance. That is why senators would rather relitigate the Russia investigation (supplying right-wing media with clips for its MAGA audience) than explore white-supremacist violence or the nominee’s views on issues such as anti-trust actions or the enforcement of environmental laws or civil rights litigation.
It was a telling coincidence that while Garland was testifying, the right-wing confab of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which is holding a conference on the “cancel culture” later this week, was forced to cancel the appearance of a notorious antisemite. A more self-aware group might recognize that the “cancel culture” has nothing to do with politics, governance or America’s challenges; it is merely an invective thrown around when whining right-wingers are held responsible for racism and other bad behavior.
Neither Republican senators nor CPAC’s organizers have much to contribute to the actual lives of Americans. They are in the business of denying racism, feeding the MAGA base red meat and getting themselves on right-wing TV.
Meanwhile, a sober and intelligent nominee for attorney general will likely receive wide bipartisan support, thereby placing the Justice Department in responsible hands. Unlike his inquisitors, Garland seems to understand precisely the challenges his department, sullied and discredited under the former president, will face in living up to its charter to defend equal justice under the law.