Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
Remarks as Delivered
Good morning Chairman Jordan, Ranking Member Nadler, and distinguished members of this Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you on behalf of the more than 115,000 employees of the Department of Justice.
Since the Justice Department was founded, it has been tasked with confronting some of the most challenging issues before the country. Today, we are handling matters of significant public interest that carry great consequences for our democracy.
A lot has been said about the Justice Department: about who we are and what we are doing; about what our job is, and what it is not; and about why we do this work.
I want to provide some clarity.
First, who we are.
The Justice Department is made up of more than 115,000 men and women who work in every state and in communities across the country and around the globe.
They are FBI, DEA, and ATF agents, and U.S. Marshals, who risk their lives to serve their communities.
They are prosecutors and staff who work tirelessly to enforce our laws. The overwhelming majority are career public servants, meaning that they were not appointed by the president of any party.
Second, I want to provide clarity about what the job of the Justice Department is, and what it is not.
Our job is to help keep our country safe.
That includes working closely with local police departments and communities across the country to combat violent crime.
In fact, today we are announcing the results of a recent U.S. Marshals operation conducted with state and local law enforcement. That operation targeted violent fugitives and resulted in 4,400 arrests across 20 cities in just three months.
Our work also includes combating the drug cartels that are poisoning Americans. Last Friday, we extradited Ovidio Guzman Lopez, a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, from Mexico to the United States. He is the son of El Chapo and one of more than a dozen cartel [leaders] we have indicted and extradited to the United States.
Our job includes seeking justice for the survivors of child exploitation, human smuggling, and sex trafficking.
And it includes protecting democratic institutions – like this one – by holding accountable all those criminally responsible for the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
Our job is also to protect civil rights.
That includes protecting our freedoms as Americans to worship and think as we please, and to peacefully express our opinions, our beliefs, and our ideas.
It includes protecting the right of every eligible citizen to vote and to have that vote counted.
It includes combating discrimination, defending reproductive rights under law, and deterring and prosecuting attacks, such as hate crimes.
And our job is to uphold the rule of law.
That means that we apply the same laws to everyone.
There is not one set of laws for the powerful and another for the powerless; one for the rich, and one for the poor; one for Democrats, another for Republicans; or different rules, depending upon one’s race or ethnicity or religion.
Our job is to pursue justice, without fear or favor.
Our job is not to do what is politically convenient.
Our job is not to take orders from the President, from Congress, or from anyone else, about who or what to criminally investigate.
As the President himself has said, and I reaffirm today: I am not the President’s lawyer.
I will also add I am not Congress’s prosecutor.
The Justice Department works for the American people.
Our job is to follow the facts and the law. And that is what we do.
All of us recognize that with this work comes public scrutiny, criticism, and legitimate oversight. These are appropriate and important given the matters and the gravity of the matters before the Department.
But singling out individual career public servants who are just doing their jobs is dangerous – particularly at a time of increased threats to the safety of public servants and their families.
We will not be intimidated. We will do our jobs free from outside influence. And we will not back down from defending our democracy.
Third, I want to explain why we approach our work this way.
The Justice Department was founded in the wake of the Civil War and in the midst of Reconstruction, with the first principal task of bringing to justice white supremacists and others who terrorized Black Americans to prevent them from exercising their civil rights.
The Justice Department’s job was then – and it is now – to fulfill the promise that is at the foundation of our democracy: that the law will treat all of us alike.
That promise is also why I am here.
My family fled religious persecution in Eastern Europe at the start of the 20th century. My grandmother, who was one of five children born in what is now Belarus, made it to the United States, as did two of her siblings.
The other two did not. Those two were killed in the Holocaust.
There is little doubt that, but for America, the same thing would have happened to my grandmother.
But this country took her in. And under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without fear of persecution.
That protection is what distinguishes this country from so many others. The protection of law – the rule of law – is the foundation of our system of government.
Repaying this country for the debt my family owes for our very lives has been the focus of my entire professional career.
That is why I served in the Justice Department under five different Attorneys General, under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
That is why I spent more than 25 years ensuring the rule of law as a judge.
That is why I left a lifetime appointment as a judge and came back to the Justice Department two and a half years ago.
And that is why I am here today.
I look forward to your questions.