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First Black Woman Appointed to Lead DOJ’s Civil Rights Division

The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Kristen Clarke to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, making her the first woman ― and first Black woman ― to oversee the powerful division created in 1957 as the Civil Rights movement was in its earliest moments.

Every Democrat voted to confirm Clarke as assistant U.S. attorney general. Every Republican but one, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, opposed her. The final tally was 51-48. Sen. John Kennedy (Q-LA) did not vote.

Clarke is currently the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and has a long record of civil rights legal work. She worked in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division more than 20 years ago, where she prosecuted dozens of federal cases relating to voting rights and hate crimes. In 2006, she worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she defended voting rights. In 2011, she was appointed director of the civil rights bureau for the New York attorney general’s office, where she led efforts relating to criminal justice issues and housing discrimination.

Clarke will now oversee the department’s enforcement of federal anti-discrimination laws, ranging from issues like justice in policing to the criminal justice system to elections.

As they do when it comes to confirming women of color to public-facing roles in the government, Republicans tried to frame Clarke as a “radical leftist,” claiming that she supports policy proposals like defunding police departments.

“Kristen Clarke is a radical extremist with a laundry list of concerning issues plaguing her nomination that go far beyond her support for defunding the police,” Sen. Ted Cruz (Q-TX), said earlier this month. Cruz famously abandoned his constituents for Cancun during the worst winter storm in the state’s recent history and also voted against both certifying the 2020 Presidential election as well as the formation of a January 6th commission.

Kristen Clarke said during her confirmation hearing that she is opposed to stripping police departments of their budgets. Instead, she lent support to the idea of reallocating money within departments to make sure law enforcement officers can do their jobs more safely.

“I do not support defunding the police,” she said in her hearing. “I do support finding strategies to ensure that law enforcement can carry out their jobs more safely and effectively and channeling resources to emotional health treatment and other severely under-resourced areas.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer congratulated Clarke upon her confirmation and noted the confluence of it arriving on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd. “As we continue to pursue strong policing reform legislation, it is appropriate that we confirm Kristen Clarke, a proven civil rights leader, to the position of Assistant Attorney General, where she can continue the fight against bigotry in many ways,” Schumer said in his remarks on the Senate floor. “It is appropriate we do it today.”



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