GOP Sen. Tom Cotton erupts at Attorney General Merrick Garland: 'Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court'

·3 min read
Merrick Garland Tom Cotton
Attorney General Merrick Garland; Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas Tasos Katopodis-Pool/Getty Images
  • Sen. Tom Cotton confronted Attorney General Merrick Garland during a hearing on Wednesday.

  • Cotton called for Garland's resignation over a memo he issued earlier this month to address threats against school officials.

  • "Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court," Cotton told Garland.

Sen. Tom Cotton sparred with Attorney General Merrick Garland and called for his resignation during an intense exchange at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The back-and-forth concerned a memo that Garland issued on October 4, in which he directed the Federal Bureau of Investigation to meet with state and local officials to address an increase in threats against public school officials.

Republicans have characterized the memo as an attempt by the Department of Justice to prevent parents from expressing concerns at local school board meetings, some of which have grown increasingly heated and even violent over issues like teaching race in the classroom, policies for transgender students, and COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates.

Cotton reiterated the GOP talking point on Wednesday by linking a prominent report of an alleged sexual assault at a school in Loudoun County, Virginia, to Garland's directive.

Garland responded that the reported rape is "the most horrific crime I can imagine" and that parents are "certainly entitled and protected by the First Amendment to protest to their school board about that."

Garland then added that Cotton's framing of his memo was "wrong" before being cut off by the Arkansas Republican.

"This is shameful. This testimony, your directive, your performance is shameful. Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court," Cotton said, referring to Garland's 2016 nomination for the bench by former President Barack Obama, which Senate Republicans blocked at the time.

"You should resign in disgrace, judge," Cotton added.

Garland tried to clarify that the DOJ wants to prevent threats of violence against school officials, not to stop parents from speaking up at school board meetings.

"I wish if senators were concerned about this, they would quote my words. 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."

Besides Cotton, several other Republicans at the hearing ripped into the memo. The committee's ranking member, Sen. Chuck Grassley, pressed Garland to revoke it.

Garland defended his directive, saying it "responds to concerns about violence, threats of violence, other criminal conduct.

"That's all it's about and all it asks is for federal law enforcement to consult with, meet with, local law enforcement to assess the circumstances, strategize about what may or may not be necessary to provide federal assistance if it is necessary," he said.

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