At a House Judiciary Committee hearing with Garland last week, Republicans said the Justice Department is targeting parents as domestic terrorists. In response, Garland defended her memo, saying the department had no interest in leaving after parents calmly voiced their opinions at school board meetings.
“We are not investigating peaceful protests or parental participation in school board meetings. There is no precedent for doing so and we will never do so,” Garland told the committee. “We’re only concerned about violence, threats of violence against school administrators, teachers, staff … One teacher, that’s what we’re worried about. We’re worried about it across the board. We’re about threats against members. Concerned Congress. We are worried about threats against police.”
Garland could face another round of GOP grilling about the memo when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Schools have become the center of political squabbles around the US over Covid pandemic safety measures, including masks, and over history lessons in the curriculum that some conservatives claim are important for white people. School issues feature prominently in the Virginia governor’s race, where voting ends on November 2.
These are not matters normally under the purview of the Department of Justice.
The school memo controversy stands in contrast to other contentious issues that Garland has had to deal with—most of which she inherited—such as the January 6 investigation and the DOJ’s handling of the defamation lawsuit against former President Donald Trump.
The setback is a sign that seven months into Garland’s tenure at the Justice Department, where his stated goal is to restore Norms — divorced from politics — after four Trump Criterion-busting years, the attorney general has landed at the center of a political controversy of his own. by making.
Clearly written language is what Justice Department officials sometimes use to draw attention to an issue without promising specific legal action. Threats against school administrators and teachers are typically investigated by state and local officials, not the FBI.
According to people briefed on the matter, the prospect of getting the FBI to work came as a surprise even to bureau officials, who received the memo shortly before it became public.
Republican Zero In
Instead of quelling the controversy, Friday’s release of a message from the National School Boards Association sparked another round of scrutiny from Republicans. The association said on Friday that its board of directors “regrets and apologizes” for the letter it wrote to Biden in September.
House Judiciary Committee Republicans argued Monday that Garland has no choice but to withdraw the memo.
“Since the NSBA letter was the basis for your memorandum and given that your memo has been and will continue to be read as threatening parents and freezing their protected First Amendment rights, the only responsible course of action is for you to be completely and explicitly withdraw the memorandum immediately,” he said in a letter to Garland.
Justice Department spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment on the Republican’s letter. The School Board Association declined to comment.
The topic is almost certain to come up again at Wednesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Republicans on the committee questioned Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke — who leads a division that was not responsible for the memo — about it when she was before the committee earlier this month.
Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican on the Senate Judiciary Panel, suggested that the DOJ’s approach was treating parents as “domestic terrorists who ask elected members of the school board about what is being taught to their children.” I dare to ask questions.”
“While this is not an issue that the Department of Civil Rights has handled, it is a memorandum issued by the Attorney General. I know the Department is committed to ensuring strong civil discourse,” Clark said at the hearing.