Kristen Clarke has made history as the first Black woman to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Justice.
The daughter of Jamaican immigrants from Brooklyn is also the first woman to lead the powerful division.
Following Senate confirmation on Tuesday, Clarke was sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris. Her mother, Pansy Clarke, held the Bible as Attorney General Merrick Garland stood nearby.
“The DOJ is now a more just place for having Kristen Clarke confirmed to serve,” Tweeted the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which Clarke led until being tapped for the post by the Biden-Harris Administration. The Senate voted 51-48 on Tuesday along partisan lines amid Republican opposition that bubbled up in recent months.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asserted that “Ms. Clarke was treated by the minority on the Judiciary Committee like some hair-raising radical, despite her record, her qualifications.” He later added: “The political right seems to relish in trying to score political points by connecting every Justice Department nominee—many of whom happen to be women of color—to hot-button partisan issues, whether or not they have any relevance.”
Schumer and Senate Democrats had to undertake a series of procedural moves to advance Clarke’s nomination out of the Judiciary Committee, where the vote was tied. Once the full Senate considered the nominee, only one GOP Senator, Susan Collins (R-ME), voted for Clarke.
Yet Clarke–who has earned degrees from Harvard and Columbia University’s law school– has ample supporters. There has been intense lobbying by Black women leaders and civil rights groups nationwide to ensure her confirmation.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) described her as “an unwavering champion for justice, equality and civil rights.” Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) praised the attorney in his floor remarks. “She has prosecuted hate crimes. She has defended people’s voting rights. She has fought against religious discrimination,” he said. “She has dedicated her career to the cause of equal justice under law.”
Clarke’s confirmation coincided with the one-year commemoration of George Floyd’s May 2020 death in Minneapolis at the hands of police. Many said it was fitting for someone who has been a consistent presence in the civil rights legal arena. Before helming the Lawyers’ Committee, Clarke formerly served as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office. She also spent several years at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and worked previously in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
In other confirmation news involving Black women in the Administration, Chiquita Brooks-LaSure of Virginia was confirmed as Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.