Many of the women President Biden has nominated into various federal positions in his record-breaking administration have yet to be confirmed.
The Senate has begun confirmation hearings for Attorney General-nominee Merrick Garland, formerly chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C., and President Obama’s pick to fill a Supreme Court vacancy in 2016 thwarted by Sen. Mitch McConnell and fellow Senate Republicans. Confirmation hearings for the three women Biden has picked to lead core elements of the Department of Justice—assistant attorney general for civil rights nominee, Kristen Clarke; associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta; and deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco—are expected in the coming weeks.
Even still, Republicans have managed to slow-walk the Biden Cabinet and administration confirmation process. As a result, many of the women President Biden has nominated into various federal positions in his record-breaking administration have yet to be confirmed—including Clarke, Gupta and Monaco.
Gupta and Clarke’s nominations in particular mark significant milestones: If confirmed, Vanita Gupta would be the first woman of color in U.S. history to serve as associate attorney general and the first civil rights lawyer to serve in one of the top three positions at the Justice Department. Similarly, Clark, a daughter of Jamaican immigrants, would be the first woman confirmed to lead the Civil Rights Division and the first Black woman to hold the post in any capacity.
Following months of reinvigorated activism to dismantle racism and anti-Blackness in the legal system, the appointments of the first women of color—both with proven records of fighting for racial justice—to lead the Department of Justice mark a pivotal turning point.
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Awaiting confirmation hearing dates for these women DOJ picks, feminists are also bracing for the heightened scrutiny and sexism both women may face during their hearings. Already, senators and media outlets who fixated on the social media activities of director of the Office of Management and Budget-nominee Neera Tanden are fielding criticism about the double standard of ignoring former President Trump’s violent and dangerous social media activities while fixating on Tanden.
At the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Clarke has worked extensively on issues of criminal justice reform, barriers to reentry for the formerly incarcerated, housing discrimination, education, voting rights, immigrant rights, reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights. Prior to leading the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Clarke worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund to advance voting rights, and served as a federal prosecutor in the Justice Department, where she handled police misconduct, police brutality, hate crimes and human trafficking cases.
Gupta currently serves as president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR). Like Clarke, Gupta has formerly worked with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and President Obama’s Justice Department. Gupta has also served as deputy legal director and director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, where she challenged anti-immigrant laws and private prisons. While at the NAACP, Gupta successfully led an effort to overturn the wrongful drug convictions of 38 individuals in Texas.
Monaco, a 15-year veteran of the DOJ, was the first woman assistant attorney general for national security, having also served the White House as a homeland security and counterterrorism advisor. At the DOJ, Monaco advised on a wide range of criminal policy, law enforcement, national security and civil litigation matters. While overseeing all federal terrorism and national security prosecutions nationwide, Monaco made investigating and prosecuting cybersecurity threats a top priority—making her leadership indispensable in the digital age.
The swift confirmations of Clarke, Gupta and Monaco are especially crucial given the DOJ’s role in investigating and prosecuting the white supremacist mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan 6. In fact, Merrick Garland reiterated during his Monday Senate hearing that investigating the riots will be one of his highest priorities.
“We begin with the people on the ground and we work our way up to those who were involved and further involved,” Garland told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). “We will pursue these leads wherever they take us.”
When confirmed, all three women will likewise play an instrumental role in ensuring accountability for those responsible for the insurrection. During her Jan. 7 nomination speech, Gupta called the Capitol riot a reminder “that our democracy cannot be taken for granted, that our nation has a long history of disinformation, white supremacist violence, mob violence. … It also reminded us that our values and our constitution and our democracy, these do not protect themselves, it is people with courage who do that”—adding that, if confirmed, she would “push every day for justice, accountability and equality under the law.”
In her own words, Clarke sees her confirmation as an opportunity to ensure President Biden can create a Cabinet that reflects the diversity of the country it serves: “I want to see more of these glass ceilings of opportunity ripped down as we forge ahead as a country,” Clarke told ABC News last month. “We are a country that is becoming increasingly diverse and we want government and corporate America and every sector of our society to reflect that great diversity.”
Leading feminists and activists including the LCCR and the National Women’s Law Center have joined in the push to confirm these women, especially the two nominees of color.
Fatima Goss Graves, the president and CEO of the NWLC, said of Clarke’s appointment: “The idea that the Civil Rights Division, whose entire mandate to enforce our civil rights law, hasn’t had a woman—and hasn’t had a Black woman in particular—is sort of stunning. It’s time to correct it.”
It’s often said justice delayed is justice denied. And every day the Senate doesn’t schedule confirmation hearings for Clarke, Monaco and Gupta, justice is delayed.
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