WASHINGTON, D.C. — Kristen Clarke officially became the first Black woman to lead the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division on Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Clarke as the assistant attorney general for civil rights by a vote of 51-48, with Sen. Susan Collins being the only Republican to vote in favor.
The GOP was critical of Clarke because of past statements she’s made on issues like policing, voting rights, and religious liberty, USA Today reports. Some in the party question whether she can enforce civil rights in a nonpartisan way.
With her mother by her side, Clarke was sworn into her role by Vice President Kamala Harris, who’s the first Black woman in her role as well.
The Civil Rights Division is tasked with upholding the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans, particularly some of the most vulnerable members of society.
Created as a result of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the division enforces federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, disability, religion, familial status, national origin, and citizenship status.
Previously, Clarke served as the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She actually started her career in civil rights as an attorney in the Civil Rights Division, where she handled cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, human trafficking, voting rights, and redistricting cases, according to the White House.
When President Joe Biden delivered remarks after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder in the killing of George Floyd last month, he mentioned Clarke and said she has “the experience and the skill necessary to advance our administration’s priorities to root out unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system.”
Clarke is a first-generation born American, whose parents immigrated from Jamaica.