The US Senate Judiciary Committee gave its approval Monday to President Joe Biden's pick to be attorney general, Merrick Garland.
The panel voted 15 to seven in support of the respected Washington appeals court judge, whose nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016 was frozen by Republicans seeking to install a conservative to a vacant seat.
The votes by several Republicans in Garland's favor virtually guaranteed that his nomination to lead the Justice Department would be approved by the Senate, which is evenly divided 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.
"I plan to vote for him. I hope that my trust is not misplaced," said Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the committee.
A vote by the full Senate could happen as early as this week.
Garland, 68, is a respected, moderately liberal judge.
He was a senior official in the Justice Department before being named a judge nearly 24 years ago.
In his confirmation hearing last week Garland said that fighting domestic extremism would be his "first priority" if confirmed as attorney general.
After extremist supporters of former president Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on January 6, Garland said that far-right extremism today was worse than when he investigated the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City that left 168 dead.
He said there was a direct line between that attack and the assault on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.
Garland also pledged to keep the department free of politics after alleged repeated interference by Trump.
He said an "urgent" task of the department was to ensure equal justice for minorities and people of color, in an apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Minorities still face discrimination in housing, education and the jobs market, and disproportionately suffer the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, Garland told the panel.
"The Civil Rights Act of 1957 created the department's Civil Rights Division, with the mission 'to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of our society,'" Garland said.
"That mission remains urgent because we do not yet have equal justice."
© 2021 AFP