(The Center Square) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland faced harsh criticism Wednesday after he defended a memo directing the FBI to monitor and investigate parents protesting COVID-19 mandates and critical race theory curriculum at school board meetings across the country.
At a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Garland said he was concerned about the potential for violence at these meetings and would not retract the memo.
“I think all of us have seen these reports of violence and threats of violence – that is what the Justice Department is concerned about,” Garland said.
Garland sent the memo just days after the National School Board Association sent a letter to President Joe Biden comparing outspoken parents at school board meetings to domestic terrorists and requesting federal help.
Both Garland’s memo and the national school association’s letter faced widespread criticism and accusations of government overreach. Some lawmakers even called for Garland’s resignation.
The National School Board Association has since apologized for some of the language it used in its letter. That hasn’t stopped more than a dozen state school board associations from withdrawing their membership to the national organization or distancing themselves from it.
At Wednesday’s hearing, Republican U.S. senators ripped into Garland.
“This is shameful. Judge, this is shameful,” Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas told Garland. “This testimony, your directive, your performance is shameful. Thank God you are not on the Supreme Court. You should resign in disgrace, judge.”
Former President Barack Obama nominated Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court in his final year of office, but Senate Republicans blocked it until former President Donald Trump took office and withdrew the nomination.
Criticism of Garland’s testimony came from outside groups as well.
“This shameful politicization of the Department of Justice to harass and threaten parents who are simply speaking out on behalf of their children is unacceptable and casts a dark cloud over the entire department,” Heritage Foundation President Kay C. James, a former member of the Virginia State School Board and Fairfax County School Board, said in a statement following the hearing. “Attorney General Garland refuses to stop his flagrant misuse of the law enforcement and prosecutorial power of the federal government, even after the National School Board Association apologized for the letter that supposedly precipitated Garland’s action.
“Congress has a solemn obligation to use every constitutional tool available, including funding mechanisms and pending nominations, to force the Department of Justice to stop this unprecedented, dangerous abuse. Any potential collusion between the administration and the NSBA cannot be ignored.