The Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s pick to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, bypassing GOP objections over the nominee’s past support for defunding the police.
Kristen M. Clarke, 46, will become the first black woman to head the division at a time when the nation is struggling with civil unrest over the deaths of black people at the hands of police officers.
Clarke won confirmation 51-48 on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. His death triggered months of civil unrest and momentum to reform law enforcement.
“It’s appropriate we do it today,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, calling Clarke “a proven civil rights leader.”
Clarke is a longtime civil rights lawyer who has been serving as president and executive director of the national Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She previously ran the Civil Rights Bureau for New York State Attorney General, in addition to other civil rights legal work.
While Democrats argued she is well-qualified, Republicans cited her writing and statements that called into question how she would run the division when crime rates are soaring in cities around the nation while police are losing resources.
Clarke authored an op-ed piece calling for some defunding of the police to bolster racial equity.
“I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police — But Be Strategic,” Clark declared in the headline to the op-ed.
Clarke later told the Senate Judiciary Committee she does not support defunding the police and that the headline of the op-ed piece was misleading.
She did not convince Republicans, who pointed out the op-ed itself includes several lines calling for investing “less in police” and that Clarke has called for slashing police budgets several times before.
Democrats accused the GOP of conducting a “smear campaign” to derail a well-qualified nominee.
“She is the civil rights chief for this moment,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. “Justice and equity and equality are on the line now, and her strength and tenacity meet this moment.”
Original Author: Susan Ferrechio