Judge Merrick Garland is regarded as a sober and straightforward jurist, but the former chief judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals became visibly emotional on Monday afternoon as he told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that he feels duty-bound to public service as repayment for the nation taking in his immigrant grandparents. Garland, who is nominated to serve as President Joe Biden’s incoming attorney general, was prompted to discuss his family history by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who noted that he had discussed Garland’s personal motivation for serving as a judge privately and asked him to elaborate. Garland, who up until that point had demonstrated a consistent composure, choked up as he described his grandparents fleeing antisemitism in the Russian Empire.
“This country took us in, and protected us,” Garland said, pausing frequently as he spoke. “I feel an obligation to the country, to pay back, and this is the highest, best use of my own set of skills to pay back” the country. Garland, who was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as an associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court before being blocked by Senate Republicans five years ago, promised to “be the kind of attorney general that you’re saying I could become, and I’ll do my best to become that kind of attorney general.”