WASHINGTON (The Hill) – Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday clashed with Republican senators over the Justice Department’s efforts to crack down on violent threats against school boards, with one GOP member telling the former judge, “Thank God you’re not on the Supreme Court.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) made the remark during a heated exchange in which the senator tried to tie the Justice Department’s new school board policy to an incident in Loudoun County, Va., where a teenager was accused of sexually assaulting a fellow student in a school bathroom.
“This testimony, your directive, your performance is shameful,” Cotton said. “Thank God, you’re not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, judge.”
Cotton’s remark came during an oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Garland faced repeated attacks from Republicans over the memo that was issued earlier this month offering federal assistance to schools and local law enforcement amid a rise in violent threats against education officials and teachers.
Before joining the Biden administration this year, Garland was a judge on the influential D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Former President Obama nominated Garland to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016, but the confirmation process never got off the ground due to opposition from Senate Republicans.
Cotton was among the Republicans in 2016 to oppose confirming a Supreme Court justice during an election year. He also delayed Garland’s confirmation as attorney general this year over criticisms about the then-judge’s views on immigration.
Republicans have painted the school board policy as federal overreach intended to chill parents’ dissent against local school policies.
During the hearing on Wednesday and a House hearing last week, Garland pushed back, arguing that there is nothing in the department’s memo that could chill parents’ free speech rights and that it has nothing to do with the Loudoun County controversy, which has largely been treated as a local matter but has generated significant public attention, including in the state’s governor’s race.
“This memorandum is not about parents being able to object in their school boards,” Garland said. “They are protected by the First Amendment, as long as there are no threats of violence, they are completely protected. So parents can object to their school boards, about curriculum, about the treatment of their children, about school policies, all of that is 100 percent protected by the First Amendment and there is nothing in this memorandum contrary to that. We are only trying to prevent violence against school officials.”