on the hill

Garland shares family history of fleeing antisemitism at emotional confirmation hearing

Garland had previously noted his grandparents’ emigration from western Russia

Screenshot/CSPAN

Merrick Garland

Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland visibly fought back tears while discussing his family fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe in the early 1900s during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Monday.

Garland spoke about his grandparents in response to a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) about his family’s history “confronting hate and discrimination.” 

“I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us,” Garland said, as his lower lip visibly quivered. 

“I feel an obligation to the country to pay back,” he continued, pausing as his voice broke. “This is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back. And so I want very much to be the kind of attorney general that you’re saying I could become. I’ll do my best to try to be that kind of attorney general.”

The former appeals court judge previously discussed this family history during a speech at the announcement of his nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016 — which was blocked by Senate Republicans.

“My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here,” Garland said at the time. “My grandparents left the Pale of Settlement at the border of western Russia and Eastern Europe in the early 1900s, fleeing antisemitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America.”

Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-GA) later thanked Garland for sharing his story, noting that his family has a similar history. 

“They probably knew each other,” Garland quipped, chuckling, in response.

Ossoff added, “I’m sure your ancestors could hardly have imagined that you’d now be sitting before this committee pending confirmation for this position.”

Later in the hearing, Garland and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) engaged in a heated exchange about Kristen Clarke, President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. Clarke has faced criticism for inviting a speaker who wrote an antisemitic screed to speak at Harvard when she led the college’s Black Student Association. Clarke has since called the move a mistake.

Lee asked Garland if antisemitic comments “would… be relevant to someone wanting to run the civil rights division.

“You know my views about antisemitism. No one needs to question those,” Garland shot back — interrupting Lee. “I’m a pretty good judge of what an antisemite is, and I do not believe that she is an antisemite, and I do not believe that she is discriminatory in any sense.”

This post was updated at 2:54 p.m. on 2/22/2021.