Feminist organizations unite to call for Senate confirmation of Kristen Clarke for DOJ, saying her “nomination comes at a crucial time.”
Almost three months into President Biden’s first term, some of his Cabinet nominees are still facing racist and sexist opposition from Republican senators. In particular, Kristen Clarke, Biden’s nominee for assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, has been tied up in a needlessly long confirmation process.
On Wednesday, Clarke will finally appear in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearing. In anticipation, 56 feminist organizations have banded together to stand behind her and call for the Senate to confirm her appointment.
If confirmed, Clarke will be the first woman confirmed to lead the Civil Rights Division and the first Black woman to ever hold the position. Her previous experience with civil rights will be critical in addressing issues like criminal justice reform, voting rights and reproductive health care access.
The letter—signed by organizations including the Feminist Majority Foundation, publisher of Ms.; MomsRising; NARAL Pro-Choice America; the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF); the National Women’s Law Center; Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and TIME’S UP Now—reveals Clarke’s strong support within the feminist community.
It highlights Clarke’s unique experience working in many areas of civil rights, saying, “Her deep understanding of the intersecting forms of structural discrimination and the real-life impacts of the laws makes her uniquely able to incorporate diverse interests when tackling the pressing civil rights challenges of our time.”
We need @KristenClarkeJD confirmed to lead Civil Rights Division ASAP. She has long record of prosecuting hate crimes & established @LawyersComm Stop Hate Project to combat increased incidents of hatred & bigotry across country. She’s the leader we need at this moment in history. https://t.co/p4EqarBePM— Leslie Proll (@LeslieProll) February 12, 2021
It also emphasizes the urgency of Clarke’s appointment. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Justice worked to undermine nondiscrimination policies and attacked immigrants and other marginalized groups. Now, as the letter explains, “The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is in dire need of strong leadership to rebuild trust and repair the credibility of this agency, and Ms. Clarke is precisely the tried and tested civil rights champion to undo the harm and trauma the Division inflicted on communities of color.”
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The full text of the letter reads:
Dear Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley:
We write on behalf of 56 gender justice; reproductive health, rights, and justice; and anti-violence organizations unified in strong support for the confirmation of Kristen Clarke as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. The Civil Rights Division (the Division) is responsible for enforcing federal laws of utmost importance to women, girls, and anyone facing discrimination, and the nomination of the leader for this Division is a top priority for our communities. The Division oversees litigation sections including the Employment Litigation Section, which litigates gender discrimination cases under Title VII; the Educational Opportunities Section, which brings Title IX claims; and the Criminal Section, which handles cases brought under the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE) and prosecutes hate crimes. The Division also includes other important sections to gender justice, such as disability rights, voting, immigration, and housing and civil enforcement. With an unprecedented breadth of civil rights litigation and civil rights leadership, Ms. Clarke is the right person we need to lead the Division at this critical juncture.
With over 20 years of experience advancing equal justice in state and federal civil rights agencies and national civil rights organizations, Ms. Clarke will bring much needed skills, knowledge, and expertise to the leadership team of the Justice Department. Ms. Clarke is intimately familiar with the very Division she is tasked to lead as she started her career in the Civil Rights Division prosecuting police misconduct, police brutality, hate crimes, and voting rights cases. She later helped lead the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s voting rights and election law work, where she defended the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act in federal court. She went on to lead the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, where she supervised broad civil rights enforcement matters in the areas of criminal justice, education and housing discrimination, fair lending, barriers to reentry, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, gender inequality, disability rights, reproductive health care access, and LGBTQ discrimination. Most recently, Ms. Clarke was the Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, one of the nation’s most respected civil rights organizations dedicated to securing equal justice for all. Under her command, the organization has been on the forefront of combating the rise in hate crimes and white supremacy, stopping rampant voter suppression in the face of a pandemic, holding accountable law enforcement officers for violating the rights of peaceful Black Lives Matters protesters, defending racial diversity policies in higher education, and fighting attempts to eviscerate fair housing discriminatory effects claims. Ms. Clarke’s extensive experience on virtually every area of civil rights makes her ready on day one to confront the inequities and injustices faced by the most vulnerable communities.
Additionally, Ms. Clarke’s racial justice work importantly included work to address discrimination that particularly affected women and girls of color. Through the New York State Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, she led a groundbreaking gender equity and sexual harassment investigation against a major corporation that resulted in a multimillion-dollar settlement fund for employees. Moreover, under her leadership, the Lawyers’ Committee broadened its partnerships on gender justice efforts. It collaborated on litigation demanding equal pay data collection, supported trans women and girls in schools, challenged the harmful Title IX sexual harassment rules, opposed a rule that would block access to birth control, and ensured workplaces are free from discrimination. Ms. Clarke also successfully represented American University student body president Taylor Dumpson, who was targeted in an online troll storm because of her race and gender, in her case against neo-Nazi website the Daily Caller. Notably, in her recent testimony in front of this Committee, she focused on issues disproportionately affecting women of color, including “the right to be free from discrimination in jobs and housing and the right to privacy-including contraception and abortion.” Her deep understanding of the intersecting forms of structural discrimination and the real-life impacts of the laws makes her uniquely able to incorporate diverse interests when tackling the pressing civil rights challenges of our time.
Kristen Clarke’s nomination comes at a crucial time. Under the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division acted counter to the core mission of protecting and enforcing the legal rights of all people in American and instead scapegoated immigrants and communities of color and defended a litany of unconstitutional legal battles. The Justice Department argued that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, a move decried by former DOJ officials and legal scholars and defended unconstitutional abortion restrictions. It was the driving force of the cruel and unjust policy separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. It cast aside the rule of law and encouraged discrimination in schools, workplaces, and health care; allowed rampant voter suppression; and otherwise weakened civil rights protections. The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division is in dire need of strong leadership to rebuild trust and repair the credibility of this agency, and Ms. Clarke is precisely the tried and tested civil rights champion to undo the harm and trauma the Division inflicted on communities of color.
Ms. Clarke is exactly the accomplished civil rights attorney who will bolster civil rights enforcement and ensure equal justice for all. Kristen Clarke has a sterling reputation amongst the civil rights and the gender justice community. She has worked on a broad set of issues, from religious freedom to criminal justice to discrimination in housing, workplace, and health care. Furthermore, Ms. Clarke’s confirmation to this position would be historic as she would be the first woman to be confirmed in that role and the first Black woman to ever hold that position. Her lived experiences and unparalleled dedication to civil rights make her uniquely situated to root out hate and discrimination. In a time when this country is reckoning with its deeply imbedded institutional racism and sexism, Ms. Clarke’s leadership is desperately needed in the Justice Department to begin the hard work of rectifying these systemic inequities.
Kristen Clarke is an exceptional nominee for the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. We urge the Committee to approve her nomination swiftly.
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