On credentials and experience alone, Clarke is eminently qualified for the position. Currently the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, she has filed or participated in more than 100 lawsuits challenging voter suppression — a major focus of the Civil Rights Division.
It doesn’t end there, though — she’s got federal government experience, too. According to the New York Times, Clarke began her government career in the voting rights section of the DOJ under President Bill Clinton and continued there under his successor, George W. Bush.
The Senate Judiciary hearing, though, spent little time on any of this. Instead, it emphasized — and villainized — her character and life as a university student. Her degree of qualification to take on the job was left largely out of the discussion.
Rather than evaluate her fitness for the post, Republicans grilled Clarke on a satirical piece that she wrote in college, which highlighted the absurdity of an openly racist book, The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, that “equated DNA with genetics and race.” They seemed to struggle with the meaning of “satire,” and insisted on taking her words at face value. The statements in the article did not represent her actual feelings on the subject; rather, as she explained, she sought to “hold up a mirror of one racist theory alongside another,” in order to challenge both.
The hearings were also wrought with accusations of antisemitism. The evidence used to support this claim, again, date to Clarke’s time in college, when president of Harvard’s Black Students’ Association (BSA). During the time period in question, the mid-1990’s, BSA invited Tony Martin to speak. Clarke has since apologized for this, citing Martin’s controversial and antisemitic views, and she has also continued to demonstrate her devotion to advocating for religious freedom for those that practice Judaism.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs expressed their support for Clarke, calling “attempts to focus on purported antisemitism during her confirmation process to be inappropriate, pretextual, and baseless.”
Another prominent attack on Clarke is that she is a “radical leftist” and a champion of “cop-killers.” This false, charged accusation is based on a loose connection of hers to efforts to free political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. Meanwhile, over three dozen current and former police chiefs have described her as someone of “impeccable credentials, character, and credibility.”
Throughout the hearing, Texas Senator Ted Cruz repeatedly cut Clarke off with accusations about her “radical” politics. At one point, he insisted that she wanted to defund the police. She doesn’t. Instead, she wants to increase financial support of local police by $300 million.
Even if one disagrees with Clarke’s politics, she remains well suited for the position. “I don’t agree with Clarke’s view on policy, but she is eminently qualified to serve a president who does,” Linda Chavez, a critic of hers and radio talk show host, Fox News analyst and chair of the conservative Center for Equal Opportunity, stated in an April 16, 2021 article in The Bulwark.
“Sadly, in these hyper-partisan times, character assassination has supplanted debate over issues,” Chavez added. “We can dispute policies without portraying those with whom we disagree as racist, evil, and unfit to serve.”
Whether or not one sides with radical, abolitionist ideas, the attacks on Clarke’s politics simply aren’t true or relevant. Clarke was a student activist who opposed mass incarceration, and she has questioned the over-funding of police and under-funding of communities. But these certainly aren’t radical ideas; Clarke actually seems pretty moderate by most accounts. The fear that Republicans — and some Democrats — have of radical change, though, is used as a means to discredit Clarke’s nomination, absent a lack of qualification.
Where her actual record does scare Republicans, though, is in her extensive work for voter’s rights. “The real reason some conservatives want to take down Ms. Clarke is that she’s been an effective champion of voting rights for Black, brown and poor people,” wrote Farah Stockman, who serves on the editorial board of the New York Times. “That’s why she was nominated. And that’s why people like Tucker Carlson are grasping at straws to tank her nomination with lies.”
Despite the aggressive and baseless questioning, Clarke’s confirmation appears likely. Democrats narrowly control the Senate and she’s expected to win approval on the basis of her long list of achievements and qualifications.
She would be the first Black woman to head the Civil Rights Division, which was left largely neglected under President Trump’s watch. With her experience in civil and voting rights, it will be interesting to see how her confirmation may shape the Justice Department going forward.
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