Kristen Clarke Could Break Barrier As DOJ Civil Rights Chief Clarke faced senators in a hearing on Wednesday for consideration to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. If confirmed she would be the first woman and first woman of color in the job.
NPR logo

Kristen Clarke's Civil Rights Record Led Her To Barrier-Breaking DOJ Nomination

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/986851081/987099859" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Kristen Clarke's Civil Rights Record Led Her To Barrier-Breaking DOJ Nomination

Kristen Clarke's Civil Rights Record Led Her To Barrier-Breaking DOJ Nomination

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/986851081/987099859" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden has said racial justice is at the center of his agenda, and lawyer Kristen Clarke is poised for a key role in that. She's been nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KRISTEN CLARKE: We will turn the page on hate and close the door on discrimination by enforcing our federal civil rights laws.

INSKEEP: If the Senate confirms her, Clarke would be the first woman and the first woman of color to hold that job. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Kristen Clarke grew up in public housing in New York, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. Her smarts propelled her to private school, then on to the Ivy League. For the past 21 years, Clarke has pursued a career in civil rights, prosecuting crimes for the Justice Department and defending voting rights in the Deep South.

TAYLOR DUMPSON: Well, this is what Kristen Clarke has been doing her entire life.

JOHNSON: Taylor Dumpson is a law student and a former intern for Clarke at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She's also a hate crime survivor.

DUMPSON: I became the first Black woman to become student government president at the American University in May 2017.

JOHNSON: On Dumpson's first day in office, a masked person hung racist symbols on her door. Then, a few days later, an online attack against her began. When the Justice Department's criminal investigation stalled, Dumpson had another idea.

DUMPSON: Can we sue neo-Nazis? Like, is that a thing that we can do?

JOHNSON: It was. Clarke and Dumpson sued a white supremacist for his role in the cyberattack, and they won.

DUMPSON: We were able to set precedent. And it was the first time that a court had found that online harassment can count and can interfere with someone's use of public accommodations, which is the first time a court has even reached that conclusion.

JOHNSON: Dumpson says the case demonstrates Clarke knows how to use the law to protect people's civil rights and hold wrongdoers to account. For the past several years, Clarke has been working to elevate the voices of survivors, bringing together police chiefs and prosecutors to hear their stories. Susan Bro has participated in some of those training sessions.

SUSAN BRO: My daughter, Heather Heyer, was murdered in August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville.

JOHNSON: Bro says Clarke helped push the Justice Department to charge her daughter's murder as a federal hate crime. And now she's pushing legislation after Heyer's death exposed gaps in the way local police departments report those cases. If she secures the job, Clarke would be the first woman to formally lead the Civil Rights Division since it was created in 1957. But her path to confirmation in a closely divided Senate is uncertain.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

TUCKER CARLSON: Kristen Clarke doesn't believe in civil rights. She believes in identity politics.

JOHNSON: Conservative media figures like Tucker Carlson have launched a campaign against her. They cite her writings as a 19-year-old and her work in putting together a conference that featured so-called political prisoners during her college days at Harvard. Clarke has appeared on Carlson's show several times, repeatedly clashing with him on air in exchanges like this one.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "TUCKER CARLSON TONIGHT")

CARLSON: Is it racist to require a photo ID to get a job or stay in a hotel or buy a gun...

CLARKE: No, no.

CARLSON: ...Or fly a plane?

CLARKE: No. But the right to vote...

CARLSON: So why is it racist to ask when you vote?

CLARKE: The right to vote is the most important right in our democracy.

CARLSON: I don't know. It's totally...

CLARKE: And we don't need to erect hurdles and barriers that make it harder for ordinary Americans to vote.

JOHNSON: Some of those clashes could repeat themselves at Clarke's hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Republican lawmakers have signaled they are prepared to put up a fight over her nomination.

Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH'S "THE CYPHER")

Copyright © 2021 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.