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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson March 12, 2021

Merrick Garland, other Justice Department nominees pledge political impartiality

During his campaign for president, Joe Biden said he would heed concerns that during Donald Trump's administration, the Justice Department sometimes seemed to carry out Trump's goals, rather than impartial justice.

Under Trump's attorney general, William Barr, the department was criticized for bending to presidential pressure when it overturned career prosecutors' sentencing recommendation for Trump associate Roger Stone.

Trump himself asserted his right to intervene in cases. He once tweeted that while Barr had said that Trump " 'has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,' this doesn't mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!"

We intend to monitor how well the Biden administration adheres to his promise of independence over the long term, but so far at least, its appointees are sticking to the message Biden promised.

When newly confirmed Attorney General Merrick Garland addressed Justice Department employees on March 11, his first day on the job, he affirmed his support for longstanding norms of impartiality.

"As I said at the announcement of my nomination, those norms require that like cases be treated alike," Garland said. "That there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans; one rule for friends and another for foes; one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless; one rule for the rich and another for the poor; or different rules depending upon one's race or ethnicity."

Other senior Justice Department nominees echoed this theme in their confirmation hearings.

"If I am confirmed, I will dedicate myself to protecting our national security, ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced, independent of partisan influence, and that the rights of all Americans are protected," said Lisa Monaco, Biden's pick to be deputy attorney general, in her opening remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 9.

And Vanita Gupta, Biden's nominee for associate attorney general, said at the same hearing, "If confirmed, I will aggressively ensure that the Justice Department is independent from partisan influence."

We will see whether the department lives up to these ideals, but for now, the officials' words show a rhetorical commitment to the promise. We rate it In the Works.

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