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In an historic first, Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Attorney General, said it is the job of the Department of Justice to dedicate resources aimed at stopping violence against transgender individuals.
Garland, a former Obama nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court whose nomination was held up by Republicans in 2016 in order to stack the high court under a future Republican president, breezed through the first day of his confirmation hearings on Monday, answering questions posed by senators on the U.S. Judiciary Committee.
Garland, who currently serves on then D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, also earned praise from several Republican senators, who called him highly-qualified for the job and praised his even-keeled temperament, even as they peppered him with questions on controversial topics ranging from the investigation into the origins of the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, the investigation into the taxes of the president’s son Hunter Biden, the concept of defunding the police, squabbles over the definition of “implicit bias,” and whether he would allow the Justice Department to remain free of the president’s influence.
Under questioning from U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Garland agreed that it was within the purview of the Justice Department to take steps to address the ongoing epidemic of violent attacks against transgender people, especially trans women of color, and to ensure transgender children are protected from mistreatment, discrimination, and even physical violence at school.
“These are hate crimes, and it is the job of the Justice Department to stop this,” Garland said. “…It’s clear to me that this kind of hateful activity has to stop, and yes, we need to put resources into it,” Garland said.
At one point during the hearing, Garland was questioned by Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) about transgender participation in athletics, with Kennedy calling transgender females “biological males” and wondering whether allowing trans athletes to compete according to their gender identity unfairly disadvantages cisgender female athletes.
“This is a very difficult societal question that you’re asking me,” Garland said. “I know what underlies it.”
Kennedy interrupted, saying: “I know, but you’re going to be Attorney General.”
Garland responded: “Oh, but I may not be the one who has to make policy decisions like that, not that I’m averse to it.
“Look: I think every human being should be treated with dignity and respect,” Garland added. “That’s an overriding sense of my own character, but an overriding sense of what the law requires. The particular question of how Title IX applies in schools is one, in light of the Bostock case, which I know you’re very familiar with, is something I would have to look at, when I have a chance to do that. I’ve not had the chance to consider these kinds of cases in my career so far. But I agree this is a difficult question.”
Conservatives have developed an obsession with transgender participation in sports in recent months, taking issue with an executive order issued by President Biden on his first day in office that sought to ensure legal protections for the LGBTQ community.
In response, Republicans have repeated nearly-identical talking points on the issue of transgender females competing in sports against cisgender females, in an attempt to pander for votes — a tactic employed in ads aired by third-party groups in the run-up to the 2020 election.
By highlighting biological differences between cisgender and transgender female athletes, Republicans and their allies have attempted to highlight a potential election-year wedge issue that does not yet enjoy majoritarian support in the country, even though polling shows a majority of Americans do support other protections for transgender individuals in employment, housing, or public accommodations, and do support their inclusion in the ranks of the U.S. military.
Garland’s confirmation hearing will continue Tuesday, with outside witnesses being called to testify about his nomination. A committee vote on the nomination has been scheduled for March 1. While it appears the committee will approve Garland’s nomination, he cautioned Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) from becoming overzealous after Leahy reportedly said he’d bet his farm in Vermont that Garland would ultimately be confirmed.
In a nod to the Judiciary Committee’s previous refusal to grant him a fair hearing under President Obama, Garland responded to Leahy’s statement with a chuckle: “Never ask anybody to bet that, senator.”
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