The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday deadlocked in a tie vote over President Biden’s pick of Kristen Clarke to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division amid objections from Republicans who painted her as an extremist bent on defunding the police.
The committee voted 11-11 on Ms. Clarke’s nomination to lead the division, which enforces voting laws and runs investigations into local police departments.
Despite the deadlock, Ms. Clarke’s nomination will still receive a floor vote but will have to clear an additional procedural hurdle.
If confirmed by the Democratic-controlled chamber, Ms. Clarke would be the first Black woman to head the Civil Rights Division.
Ms. Clarke previously worked in the division and is the current president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a left-leaning group that advocates for racial justice.
Republicans on the committee attacked Ms. Clarke with claims she will defund the police, ramp up Justice Department investigations into local police departments and ignore voting rights violations when Democrats are implicated.
The conservatives also hammered her on an op-ed she wrote in Newsweek last year that appeared to advocate defunding the police.
The article headlined “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police — But Be Strategic,” was published after last summer’s death of George Floyd while in the custody of the Minneapolis police.
“Her record is extremely troubling and I’m concerned she will weaponize the tools of the Civil Rights Division including pattern or practice investigations, search warrants, and criminal indictments to do what she said she wanted to do back in 2020 which is defund the police,” said John Cornyn, Texas Republican.
At her confirmation hearing last month, Ms. Clarke distanced herself from the article, insisting she doesn’t support defunding the police. She called the allegations and blamed a magazine editor for the misleading headline.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, read from her op-ed, sparking bickering among the panel after Democrats accused him of distorting her piece.
“What is the distortion?” Mr. Cruz responded. “I read verbatim from her op-ed. Was one word or one syllable of what I read inaccurate and if it’s not you can’t simply say ‘it isn’t true’ with no facts.”
Democrats maintained that Ms. Clarke should be taken at her word when she told the committee last month she opposed defunding the police.
Committee Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said claims that Ms. Clarke would work to defund the police are “not grounded in fact” and “an exaggeration.”
They also highlighted her experience litigating civil rights cases.
“Kristen Clarke is going to be great in this job and that’s because I’ve seen her in action,” said Sen. Amy Klobucher, Minnesota Democrat. “I’ve seen her stand up for the rights of everyone.”
“She has spent her entire 25-year career for civil rights and equal justice under law,” she continued. “She spent years working to advance the civil rights of all Americans.”