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Judge Garland was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals in April 1997, and served as Chief Judge from February 12, 2013 through February 11, 2020. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1974 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1977. Following graduation, he served as law clerk to Judge Henry J. Friendly of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. From 1979 to 1981, he was Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States. He then joined the law firm of Arnold & Porter, where he was a partner from 1985 to 1989 and from 1992 to 1993. He served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia from 1989 to 1992, and as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice from 1993 to 1994. From 1994 until his appointment as U.S. Circuit Judge, he served as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, where his responsibilities included supervising the Oklahoma City bombing and UNABOM prosecutions.

Judge Garland has published in the Harvard Law Review and Yale Law Journal, taught at Harvard Law School, and served as President of the Board of Overseers of Harvard University. He served as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States from 2017 to 2020.