The Senate Judiciary Committee launched its two-day nomination hearing Monday (Feb. 22) for Merrick Garland. President Joe Biden's nominee for attorney general. Like his predecessor, Bill Barr, he has some experience with communications issues. But unlike his previous nomination--by President Obama to the Supreme Court in 2016--he is expected to be confirmed to his new post.
Among the communications issues Garland will be confronting as attorney general are electronic surveillance and encryption, music licensing consent decrees, and Big Tech antitrust and Sec. 230 immunity issues.
If he is confirmed, that will mean that Garland, former Chief Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which has principal jurisdiction over FCC decisions, will be replacing a former telecom exec, Bill Barr, who argued against FCC net neutrality regulations while general counsel of Verizon.
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Garland does not have a long communications decision track record on the D.C. circuit, though he was chief judge of the court when a three-judge panel heard the 2013 Verizon v. FCC case, that company's challenge to compromise, Title I-based net neutrality rules. Verizon's victory arguably proved pyrrhic since it led to tougher regs, at least until they were eliminated though likely to return in some form under the new administration.
He also had to weigh in when petitioners sought en banc (full court) review of panel decisions, like those on net neutrality rules.
The Reporters Committee does not rate Attorney General nominees, but it appears to like what it saw in Garland's judicial background when it came to First Amendment protections.
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It said that Garland has taken strong stands on speech and journalist protections, though both came in dissents, one in support of reporters' privilege and another in support of publishing lawfully obtained information.
Nominee Garland was early on pressed by members of Congress to drop DOJ's suit challenging a California net neutrality law, but the Biden Justice Department has already done that even without a new attorney general.
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