Senate confirms DOJ nominee Kristen Clarke with just one Republican vote

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The Senate confirmed Kristen Clarke as the first Black woman to run the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in a 51-48 vote Tuesday afternoon. 

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted yes with all Democrats, and Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., did not vote. 

Clarke will now serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights. 

Clarke’s nomination was voted out of committee in a split 11-11 tie vote that ran down partisan lines. 

Executive nominees like Clarke can be confirmed by a simple majority vote. The Senate invoked cloture in a 51-48 vote earlier Tuesday to end debate and move to a final vote later in the afternoon. 

The vote came on the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, timing Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called “particularly poignant and appropriate.”

Clarke previously served in the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama. 

The Civil Rights Division under Clarke is expected to investigate policing throughout the country, already leading civil investigations into the Minneapolis Police Department and a probe in Louisville, Ky., where Breonna Taylor was killed. And as a number of states move to enact voting restrictions, the department is expected to investigate voting laws for discrimination under the Voting Rights Act. 

Clarke’s confirmation was controversial because of her prolific Twitter use, where she would often launch broadsides against some senators, including Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Clarke also has a history of controversial writings, including a 2020 Newsweek op-ed headlined: “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police—But Be Strategic.”

Clarke said in a hearing before the Judiciary Committee that she did not actually mean to say police should be defunded in that op-ed.

She has also labeled President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees as “white male extremists.”

In her confirmation hearing, Clarke touted work with people of all backgrounds and political affiliations. 

“Our nation is a healthier place when we respect the rights of all communities. In every role I’ve held, I have worked for and with people of all backgrounds — regardless of race, national origin, religion and disability status,” Clarke wrote. “I’ve listened deeply to all sides of debates, regardless of political affiliation. There is no substitute to listening and learning in this work, and I pledge to you that I will bring that to the role if confirmed.”

For the past five years, she was been working on the nonprofit Lawyers’ committee, which focuses on social justice. 

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