The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Kristen Clarke to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division despite near-unanimous opposition from Republicans who branded her as a radical who would defund police.
In a 51-48 vote, the upper chamber approved Ms. Clarke as the assistant attorney general for Civil Rights. Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican, voted yes with all Democrats, and Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, did not vote.
Ms. Clarke previously worked in the division and also served as the president of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, a left-leaning group that advocates for racial justice.
She will be the first Black woman to head the Civil Rights Division, which probes allegations of racial discrimination and investigates rogue police departments.
Sen. Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said it was “poignant” and “appropriate” that the confirmation vote occurred on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police. His death sparked demands for changes to policing and a renewed focus on racial justice issues.
“As we continue to pursue strong police reform legislation, it is appropriate that we confirm Kristen Clarke, a proven civil rights leader, to the position of assistant attorney general where she can continue the fight against bigotry,” Mr. Schumer said.
Republicans were close to united in their opposition to Ms. Clarke, blasting her as a liberal activist who will move the Civil Rights Division to the far left.
They also said she‘ll work to defund local police departments and holds views hostile to law enforcement.
“Ms. Clarke has consistently demonstrated that she‘s more interested in attacking the police and calling everybody a racist than finding the facts or reviewing the evidence,” said Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican.
“Kristen Clarke is one of the most radical nominees ever put forward for any position in the federal government … completely unfit to serve,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican.
GOP senators have repeatedly hammered Ms. Clarke 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.
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.
“Call me naive, call me simple, but when you write an article entitled ‘Defund the Police,’ and you say we must invest less in the police and ‘I advocate defunding policing options,’ it sounds to me like you support defunding the police,” Mr. Cotton said.
Democrats mocked Republican claims that she was anti-law enforcement and highlighted her lengthy career fighting for civil rights.
“Throughout her decades of civil rights work — 20 years of working in civil rights — she has partnered closely with law enforcement, many of them have publicly endorsed her,” Sen. Dick Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said last week.
“[Republicans] would have us believe she has this mystical power to take people in law enforcement and delude them because secretly she is a socialist radical. Not true,” he said.
Ms. Clarke‘s nomination was deadlocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee but it still advanced to the Senate floor after clearing a procedural vote.
Wade Henderson, interim president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
called the confirmation a “historic, important moment for our nation.
“In this crucial role, Clarke
will no doubt continue her
lifelong commitment fighting tirelessly for equal justice under the law for every individual in this country, including people of color facing racial and sex discrimination, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities targeted because of their faith,” he
said in a statement. “The Justice Department is in superb hands as it continues to restore its role as chief enforcer of our civil rights.”