WASHINGTON (AP) — Merrick Garland is joining a small club, including a couple of Supreme Court justices, who gave up lifetime jobs as a federal judge because a president, or soon-to-be president, asked them to.
The 68-year-old Garland, Joe Biden’s pick for attorney general, said the chance to run the Justice Department was too good to refuse.
“I have loved being a judge. But to serve as attorney general at this critical time, to lead the more than 113,000 dedicated men and women who work at the department to ensure the rule of law, is a calling I am honored and eager to answer,” Garland said Thursday as he was formally introduced as Biden’s choice. He previously served at the department in the 1990s.
If confirmed by the Senate, he would move a few short blocks west on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington from the courthouse where he has served on the federal appeals court since 1997.
Garland was nominated to the Supreme Court nearly five years ago, but Republicans who controlled the Senate refused to give him a vote or even a hearing.
Before Garland, Michael Chertoff left the federal appeals court in Philadelphia in 2005, after only a couple of years, to run the Homeland Security Department for President George W. Bush. Chertoff told senators at his confirmation hearing that helping protect the country in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks was “the greatest challenge of my generation.″
Forty years earlier, President Lyndon Johnson tried to persuade Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg to step down from the court to become the nation’s ambassador the United Nations during the Vietnam war. Goldberg, who had been confirmed to the court only three years earlier, eventually and reluctantly agreed. ″I shall not, Mr. President, conceal the pain with which I leave the court…It has been the richest and most satisfying period of my career,” Goldberg wrote the president.
Another justice, James Byrnes, who joined the court a few months before Pearl Harbor, resigned after just 15 months because he wanted to be more involved in the Roosevelt administration’s war effort.
Two other men resigned federal judgeships to serve as the government’s top Supreme Court lawyer in what essentially were auditions for a spot on the court.
It worked out for Thurgood Marshall, who had been serving as an appeals court judge in New York. He became the first Black person to serve as solicitor general and then on the Supreme Court justice, named by Johnson to both jobs.
President George H.W. Bush put Kenneth Starr, who had been an appellate judge in Washington, in the solicitor general’s job in 1989. But Starr never got the call to serve on the high court.
Instead, he ran the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment over his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.