Kristen Clarke: Senate confirms first black woman to lead DOJ’s civil rights division

The vote was 51-48 with Senator Susan Collins as the only Republican to vote for her confirmation. Clarke’s confirmation breaks down barriers in a department created in 1957.

She was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris at the Justice Department on Tuesday evening. Harris spokesperson Symone Sanders hailed Clarke as “a timeless champion of equal justice” in a statement ahead of the ceremony.

“This is a historic moment because for the first time since its creation, following the promulgation of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the confirmed Deputy Attorney General for Civil Rights will be a woman, and will be a black woman, and it’s Kristen Clarke, ”Sanders said.

A born first-generation American whose parents emigrated from Jamaica, the West Indies, Clarke graduated from Harvard University and Columbia University School of Law.

Her legal career began at the Department of Justice, which allowed her to travel across the country to communities like Tensas Parish, Louisiana, and Clarksdale, Mississippi, she said during her confirmation hearing in April.

“Our nation is a healthier place when we respect the rights of all communities. In every role I have held, I have worked for and with people of all backgrounds – regardless of race, national origin, religion and disability, ”Clarke wrote. “I have listened intently to all facets of the debates, regardless of their political affiliation. There is no substitute for listening and learning in this work, and I promise you that I will bring that to the role if confirmed. ”

She has served for the past five years as chair of the nonprofit lawyers committee, which focuses on social justice.

After her appointment, Republicans resurfaced controversial moments dating as far back as her undergraduate years at Harvard, where she co-wrote an article comparing black and white genetics and as head of the Association of black Harvard students where she invited an anti-Semitic author for a commitment to speak.
Clarke faced both situations over 25 years ago, apologizing for giving the author a platform and explaining after the article’s publication that she did not share these views. But, after the right-wing media resurfaced the article denouncing her nomination, she met with several Jewish organizations and reiterated the Union of Reform Judaism that “she made a mistake” in her decisions.

“Kristen not only has the skills but the temperament to handle it all, she just gave it up. She’s someone who – even before the appointment – she got a hate mail for suing the Proud Boys before the appointment. ‘insurgency, “Damon Hewitt, executive director and acting chairman of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the Act, told CNN.

After Clarke interned at the Justice Department in 1999, she turned down a job with a private law firm to work in the public service, Hewitt said. Over the course of Clarke’s 20-year career, she spent three stints on federal civil rights teams and served as an assistant lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund – while raising her son.

Contentious confirmation hearing

Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley and Mitch mcconnell declined to support Clarke’s nomination, citing his views on police reform.
“He is not the right candidate for a crucial position at a crucial time,” McConnell said on Monday, pointing to the recent increase in violent crime across the United States.
Cruz used a recent nowhere to be found firearms hearing to criticize Clark and Vanita Gupta, who was confirmed in April as Deputy Attorney General – the first woman of color to hold the No.3 position in the Justice Department – for calling them of “radicals”.

Hawley told CNN last week that he agreed with Cruz, saying that “the model of nominees by this administration has a sort of radical left background.”

Clarke defended her previous statements during her confirmation hearing last month, saying she against police funding and prefers to allocate funds to other social programs.

“I am not in favor of cutting police funding,” she said at the hearing, responding to a question from Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin. “I support the search for strategies to ensure that law enforcement can do their jobs more safely and efficiently and to channel resources into the treatment of emotional health and other seriously underfunded areas.”

Clarke’s supporters have said they believe she faces a more difficult path to confirmation due to her race.

“I think it’s race, there’s no other way to describe it,” NAACP chairman Derrick Johnson told CNN.

“No one else is being treated the way they are being treated right now,” Johnson added. “When you compare that to the appointments made by the old administration and how underqualified they were for positions, especially for life appointments to the federal judiciary, you can’t draw any other conclusion. [that] he is motivated by race. ”

In his remarks to CNN, Hawley denied that race played a role in his objections, saying he found the suggestion “ridiculous and offensive.”

Cruz’s office said the Texas Republican’s objection stems from Clarke’s positions.

“Kristen Clarke’s blatant disregard for law enforcement – as evidenced by her repeated calls for police deregistration and her troubling history of advocating for brutal cop murderers – should be disqualifying for the post of prosecutor.” Deputy General of the Civil Rights Division, ”Cruz said in a statement to CNN.

This story and title was updated with additional developments on Tuesday.

CNN’s Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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