On Tuesday, Kristen Clarke became the first Black woman to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division. On the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, Clarke was sworn into office by the first Black woman to serve as vice president, Kamala Harris.
“This is a historic moment because for the first time since its creation, following the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the confirmed Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights will be a woman and will be a Black woman, and that is Kristen Clarke,” Harris spokesperson Symone Sanders said in a statement before the ceremony, CNN reports.
Clarke—who earned degrees from Harvard University and Columbia University School of Law and began her career as a civil rights attorney at the Justice Department—was narrowly granted her new position as the Senate voted 51-48 in her favor. The vote went mostly among party lines with only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) voting in support of Clarke’s confirmation.
Republicans have been working their white nationalist asses off to delegitimize President Joe Biden’s nominees of color in general, but they had been going extra hard in opposition to Clarke. In fact, it’s fair to say that the same people who claim “cancel culture” has gone too far absolutely employed “canceling” techniques in an attempt to block her confirmation.
After her nomination, Republicans resurfaced controversial moments going back as far as her undergraduate years at Harvard, where she co-authored an article that compared the genetics of Blacks and Whites and as the leader of Harvard’s Black Students’ Association where she invited an anti-Semitic author for a speaking engagement.
Clarke confronted both situations over 25 years ago, apologizing for giving the author a platform and explained after the article published that she did not share those views. But, after right-wing news outlets resurfaced the article to denounce her nomination, she has met with several Jewish organizations and reiterated to the Union of Reform Judaism that “she erred” in her decisions.
But the main issue Republicans appear to have with Clarke is that they fear she will move to defund the nation’s police departments.
“A vote for Kristen Clarke is a vote to defund the police,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said before the vote, USA Today reports.
To be fair, Clarke did write in an op-ed for Newsweek last year that she advocates for “defunding policing operations that have made African Americans more vulnerable to police violence and contributed to mass incarceration, while investing more in programs and policies that address critical community needs.” Of course, she also acknowledged that, depending on who you’re talking to, “defund the police” can take on many meanings that range “from reining in municipal police budgets to complete police abolition.”
At any rate, during her confirmation hearing last month, Clarke denied that she was in favor of defunding the police.
“I do not support defunding the police,” she said in response to a question from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), CNN reports. “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.”
Anyway, Republican tears aside, Clarke—a 2019 The Root 100 honoree who has spent the last five years serving as the president of the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee, which focuses on social justice, according to CNN—has been confirmed and we can look forward to seeing what she does for the current civil rights movement while serving in her new position.
“Our nation is a healthier place when we respect the rights of all communities. In every role I’ve held, I have worked for and with people of all backgrounds — regardless of race, national origin, religion and disability status,” Clarke said during her confirmation hearing. “I’ve listened deeply to all sides of debates, regardless of political affiliation. There is no substitute to listening and learning in this work, and I pledge to you that I will bring that to the role if confirmed.”