Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., on Wednesday pressed Attorney General Merrick Garland to explain his thinking behind a controversial 2021 memorandum directing the Justice Department to investigate violent threats to school personnel.
The questioning came during the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “Oversight of the Department of Justice” hearing.
“Didn’t you understand the chilling effect that it would have [on] parents when you issued your directive? When you directed your criminal and counterterrorism divisions to investigate parents who were angry at school boards and administrators during COVID?” Kennedy asked.
Garland pushed back, saying his directive clarified that parents’ First Amendment rights were protected. The attorney general distinguished between those who threatened school board members with violence, and those who merely complained to their school board.
“And [the directive] came in the context of a whole series of other kinds of violent threats and violence against other public officials,” Garland said.
Angry parents, lashing out at school board meetings across the country, captured headlines for much of 2021. Many were fed up with COVID-19 restrictions and their detrimental impacts on their child’s education.
The National School Boards Association sent President Biden a letter in September 2021 equating the actions of some parents as “a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes.”
Less than a week later, Garland wrote a one-page memo to the FBI, offices for U.S. attorneys, and the DOJ’s Criminal Division to notify officials that the agency would “use its authority and resources to identify threats at school board meetings against faculty, and “prosecute them when appropriate.” The word “parent” was never mentioned in the document.
“What did you think was going to happen?” Kennedy asked Garland on Wednesday.
The Louisiana Republican challenged Garland’s assertion that the memo was intended to prevent threats of violence and not investigate “angry parents.”
“This is about the third I’m being asked about the same memorandum. And each time I’ve said, and I hope that the senators would go ahead and advise their constituents in the same way that this is not what we do,” Garland said. “We are not in any way trying to interfere with parents making complaints about the education of their children.”
Last September, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit from Virginia and Michigan parents who sued Garland over the memo. Trump-appointed Judge Dabney Friedrich wrote, “the policy does not label anyone a domestic terrorist, as the plaintiffs suggest.”
Fox News’ David Spunt and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.