The Senate has confirmed Kristen Clarke as the new head of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department. Clarke is the first woman and the first Black woman to fill the role. Her confirmation came on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s death, something Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer described as being “particularly poignant and appropriate.” 

The approval for the Biden nominee was narrow with a final vote of 51-48; only Sen. Susan Collins of Maine voted in favor of Clarke from the Republican side of the aisle. 

A brief swearing-in ceremony took place yesterday evening. Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office, and Clarke’s mother held the Bible. Following the ceremony, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke about Clarke’s qualifications for the post setting up a comparison to Burke Marshall. Marshall served in Clarke’s new role during the height of the Civil Rights Movement and is regarded as a key architect of much of America’s civil rights legislation at the time.

“She has, you could say, 100% more relevant experience than Burke Marshall had when he was made assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights division and Burke Marshall was a great civil rights chief—she is going to be even greater,” said Garland. 

A first-generation American, Clarke studied at Harvard University and Columbia Law. She previously served as president for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office. She has also worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, which she will now lead. 

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Clarke’s legal work and advocacy spans virtually all areas of civil rights law with experience in hate crimes, police misconduct and brutality, voting rights, housing discrimination, LGBTQ rights, disability rights and more. 

Several political advocacy groups and public figures have weighed in on Clarke’s historic confirmation praising her fitness for the role and impressive civil rights track record. 

“Her track record of protecting all of our civil rights in areas ranging from combating hate crimes to advancing voting rights to fighting discrimination in housing, workplace, and healthcare, reveals her deep expertise and readiness for this critical role,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “Kristen’s confirmation is powerful and historic as the first woman and the first Black woman to ever hold this post,” she continued. 

The NAACP also released a statement applauding Clarke’s historic confirmation. “Today will go down in history as Ms. Clarke becomes the first African American woman ever confirmed to the position in the 64-year history of the Civil Rights Division. As our nation remembers George Floyd’s brutal killing by police officers one year ago today, we know much work lies ahead to obtain equal justice for all.” 

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who previously voiced public support of Clarke’s nomination also offered congratulations and praise. “Kristen Clarke is a true public servant who has dedicated her career to bettering the lives of others, and, following today’s bipartisan vote to confirm her nomination, that selfless work will continue,” said Attorney General James.

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