The Senate narrowly confirmed Tuesday that Kristen Clark is the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, making her the first black woman to hold the high-profile position.
The Senate voted 51 to 48 to affirm Clark, with Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican, as the only Republican member to support President Joe Biden’s candidate to lead a powerful Department of Justice that is responsible for investigating police abuse and enforcing voting rights. Federal laws and legislation prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, and other factors.
Clark is filling the post at a pivotal time for the Justice Department, as the high-profile deaths of black citizens during confrontations with police have led to months of social justice protests and calls for reform. Clark, a longtime civil rights attorney, is expected to play a pivotal role in stimulating the Justice Department’s investigations into troubled police agencies, which were weak during the Trump administration.
Clark, chair of the Bar Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, will be at the center of the Justice Department’s response to the onslaught of restrictive voting laws passed in several states after the last presidential election. It was confirmed on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s death.
Republicans in the Senate have harshly criticized Clark, saying that her past statements on issues such as voting rights, religious freedom and the police make them question whether she can be a nonpartisan enforcer of civil rights.
“A vote for Christine Clark is a vote to get the police out,” Republican Senator Tom Cotton said, ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
Democrats defended Clark, citing her long career as a civil rights attorney. Clark and Vanita Gupta, who was recently confirmed as the third highest ranking official in the Department of Justice and also a woman of color, have been drawn into a campaign linked to hot issues of race and police misconduct.
Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said, “Kristin Clark is individually qualified to lead (the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division), especially at this moment in history.”
Clark, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, began her career as an attorney at the Department of Justice, where she sued for police brutality, hate crimes and human trafficking and enforced voting rights laws. She continued working as a voting rights advocate for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and was also a civil rights enforcement officer in the New York State Attorney’s Office.
“Having known Christine for more than two decades and recently serving as her first deputy, I know she is exactly the person we need at this moment when civil rights threats are at their peak,” Damon Hewitt, Acting President and CEO of Lawyers, said the Committee on Civil Rights Under the Act in a statement .
Contribution: Kevin Johnson