We Urgently Need Kristen Clarke at the Justice Department
By Ben Jealous
Kristen Clarke is a brilliant lawyer and Americans would be lucky to have her working for us.
President Joe Biden has nominated Clarke to lead the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Justice Department. The U.S. Senate is now considering her nomination. In a just world, there would be no question about her confirmation. Clarke has the skills, experience, and character for the job.
Sadly, as we all know, having the best qualifications is often not enough to keep extraordinary Black women from being overlooked or dismissed. Or worse.
Clarke is the latest woman of color nominated by President Biden to be smeared by the right wing.
Tucker Carlson, whose popular show on Fox TV has become a megaphone for white nationalist ideology, has attacked Clarke multiple times. He allowed one of his guests to make the false and ridiculous claim that Clarke “hates white people.”
Even before Clarke’s confirmation hearing last week, right-wing senators had signaled their intentions to take the low road. During the earlier confirmation hearing for Attorney General Merrick Garland, who will be Clarke’s boss at the Justice Department, testified. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) started asking questions implying that Clarke should be rejected based on bogus charges of anti-Semitism going back to her days as a college student. Garland, who is Jewish, cut Lee off, defended Clarke’s integrity, and declared that he knows she is opposed to discrimination of any kind.
Indeed. Clarke has spent her career as a champion for people facing discrimination.
Her first job after law school was in the Civil Rights Division which she will be leading once she is confirmed. She prosecuted civil rights violations and handled investigations involving police misconduct, hate crimes and human trafficking. When she went to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, she focused on protecting voting rights.
When she led the Civil Rights Bureau in the New York state Attorney General’s office, she investigated and prosecuted cases of discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, source of income and disability status.
She helped a group of women at Consolidated Edison, one of the largest energy companies in the U.S., bring a lawsuit against sex discrimination and harassment of female workers—and win an important settlement. Susan Kartell, a woman who worked at ConEd for 26 years, tells the story in an ad from People For the American Way’s Her Fight Our Fight campaign, which defends women of color nominated to high-level government positions and facing racist and sexist attacks.
Earlier this year, as president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Clarke sued the violent right-wing group Proud Boys for vandalizing the historic Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., after an event protesting Donald Trump’s loss in the presidential election.
Clarke has been so effective at bringing communities together to address difficult issues that she has won the respect of people from across the political spectrum. Her confirmation is supported by the human and civil rights community and by many law enforcement organizations.
We urgently need Clarke’s experience and expertise at the Justice Department—and we need it right now.
We saw hate crimes and harassment soar during the years that Donald Trump spewed poison through his White House megaphone and Twitter feed. We now see violent white supremacists and other extremists recruiting disillusioned Trump supporters. We continue to witness Black people dying needlessly at the hands of police. We see state after state responding to high Black voter turnout in 2020 with new laws to make it harder for people to vote in future elections.
Kristen Clarke is prepared for all these challenges. She will make our fight her fight. And that’s why we must make her fight our fight and tell the Senate to confirm her without delay.
Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and People For the American Way Foundation. Jealous has decades of experience as a leader, coalition builder, campaigner for social justice and seasoned nonprofit executive. In 2008, he was chosen as the youngest-ever president and CEO of the NAACP. He is a graduate of Columbia University and Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and he has taught at Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.