President Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is one step closer to a confirmation vote by the full Senate. But Senate Republicans are mounting a full-scale resistance to Kristen Clarke, a prominent civil rights attorney.
Thursday’s deadlocked vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Clarke’s nomination was the latest sign of wholesale GOP opposition to her nomination. The tie vote means Democrats will have to use a separate procedural maneuver to have her confirmation considered by the full Senate.
Republicans ahead of Thursday’s committee vote hinted that they expected her to be ultimately confirmed, despite their opposition.
Clarke is the second Biden nominee for a Justice Department post to face an intense opposition campaign by conservative activists. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta — another civil rights attorney who would supervise Clarke if Clarke is confirmed — was also opposed by almost every Republican in the chamber.
During the committee meeting to vote on Clarke, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said that this reflected a “disturbing trend” of Biden choosing “highly politicized nominees” for the Justice Department.
Democrats say that Clarke is more than qualified for the role while touting the support she’s received from a bipartisan mix of former DOJ officials. It has not been lost on Clarke’s supporters that Republicans, with the similar pushback they launched against Gupta, have chosen to target to female DOJ nominees of color.
Gupta was confirmed with the support of just one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). It is unclear yet whether Clarke will be able to pick off any Republicans when her nomination is before the full Senate. If not, she’ll need all 50 Democratic votes to be confirmed.
Clarke began her career at the DOJ division she has now been chosen to lead and after a stint at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, led the civil rights division of the New York Attorney General’s office. Her most recent role as head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has burnished her credentials as a champion for racial justice and voting rights. But it has also made her a target of the right, with Republicans at Thursday’s committee hearing critiquing her past statements on “defund the police” and the legal challenges she has spearheaded against state level restrictive voting laws.
Conservative activists also launched a campaign to smear her as prejudiced based largely on an op-ed she wrote for a college news paper that was clearly satirical. That allegation flopped when it was trotted out by Republicans during her nomination hearing.