US President-elect taps Caribbean American voting rights advocate for senior Department of Justice post

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Kristen Clarke

On Thursday, United States President-elect Joe Biden tapped a Caribbean American voting rights advocate for a senior US Department of Justice (DOJ) position.

In a national television address, Biden named Clarke the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

If confirmed by the US Senate, Clarke will lead the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. 

Biden said Clarke “has also spent her career advocating for greater equity in the justice system.

“A daughter of Jamaican immigrants, Kristen is also one of the most distinguished civil rights attorneys in America,” said the US President-elect, adding that Clarke, “a proud native of Brooklyn,” began her legal career in “the very same office she is now nominated to lead.” 

Biden said Clarke’s previous tenure with the Justice Department “saw her take on some of the most complex civil rights cases — from voting rights and redistricting challenges to prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking.

“She has earned accolades throughout her career — including as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for her home state of New York, where she led the charge to end the school-to-prison pipeline and root out discrimination in housing and law enforcement,” he said. 

“She currently leads one of the nation’s top civil rights organizations, where she promotes greater equity in voting rights, in our education system, our housing system, our justice system, and so much more,” he added. “Now, she will return full circle to pursue that vital work where her career began.” 

Biden said the Civil Rights Division represents “the moral center of the Department of Justice, and the heart of that fundamentally American ideal, that we are created equal and deserve to be treated equally.” 

He said he was “honored” that Clarke “accepted the call to return to make real that promise for all Americans.”

Clarke will be the second high-profile Jamaican American in the Biden administration, following Kamala Harris, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, along with Biden, as US vice president and president, respectively. Harris is the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father. 

The Biden-Harris Transition Team said on Thursday that Clarke had served in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, where she handled hate crimes, human trafficking, police misconduct, voting rights, and redistricting cases. 

She is the current president and executive director of the US National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“Kristen Clarke has extensive law enforcement and civil rights experience, starting her career in civil rights as a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice,” the Biden-Harris Transition Team said. 

“While at the department, she was a federal prosecutor in the Criminal Section of the Division, responsible for cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, and human trafficking,” it added. “Through the Division’s Voting Section, she also worked on voting rights and redistricting cases.”

Clarke also served as the head of the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, “where she successfully led landmark efforts to address discrimination in housing, the school-to-prison pipeline, and reforming practices and policies of police departments.” 

The team said that Clarke also served at the US NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legal Defense and Educational Fund, focusing on voting rights and election law. The NAACP is the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the United States. 

Clarke’s biography indicates that she has written numerous articles and books, including Barack Obama and African American Empowerment: The Rise of Black America’s New Leadership (co-edited with Dr. Manning Marable).  

Clarke was born in 1975, a few years after her parents migrated from Jamaica to the United States. 

She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University in Massachusetts and a Juris Doctor (law degree) from the prestigious Columbia Law School in New York in 2000.

“This job is about justice,” tweeted Clarke soon after Biden announced her appointment on Thursday. “It’s about equality. And under our DOJ, we’ll move closer to the TRUE meaning of equal justice under law. 

“Honored to be nominated by @JoeBiden to serve as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division,” she added. 

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