Another Jamaican American for Top Post in the Biden Administration

Should the U.S. Senate confirm the appointment of Kristen Clarke to the Justice Department, Clarke would join Susan Rice and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris as members of the Biden-Harris administration of Jamaican heritage.

Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, was nominated by President-elect Joe Biden last week to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Department of Justice.

While accepting Biden’s nomination on January 7, Clarke thanked her Jamaican parents for teaching her the principles of hard work and respect as a child. 

“Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, my parents instilled in me an unrelenting belief in the principle of hard work and respect for the dignity and humanity of all people. I am deeply thankful for the trail that my parents blazed, and I can only imagine the pride they are feeling as I take on the challenging new opportunity.” She also thanked her partner, Mustafa, and made mention of her teenage son.

Clarke, a veteran of the Department of Justice, started her career in civil rights as a career attorney in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice where she handled cases of police misconduct, hate crimes, human trafficking, voting rights, and redistricting cases.

A statement from the Biden-Harris transition team read that “she has been a champion of systemic equity and equal justice throughout her career.”

“She’s the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. But don’t think this has been designed here,” Biden joked, nodding to Harris, who is also the daughter of a Jamaican.

Clarke was born in Brooklyn, New York. Her parents migrated from Jamaica to the United States just a few years before she was born in 1975.

She has said that she grew up in a household that was “about discipline, working hard in school and about making the most of every opportunity.”

Clarke was a member of Prep for Prep, a non-profit organization that looks to support students of color in accessing private school education. She attended Choate Rosemary Hall, where she was the only girl to join the boy’s wrestling squad.

She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard University and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School in 2000.

After graduating she worked as a trial attorney in the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. In this capacity, she served as a federal prosecutor and worked on voting rights, hate crimes, and human trafficking cases.

In 2006, Clarke joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she co-led the political participation group and focused on election law reform. In 2011, she was appointed director of the Civil Rights Bureau of then-Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman, where she led initiatives on criminal justice issues and housing discrimination. Under her initiative, the bureau reached agreements with retailers on racial profiling of their customers, police departments on policy reforms, and with school districts on the school-to-prison pipeline.

In 2015, Clarke was appointed president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. One of her first roles was leading Election Protection, a voter protection coalition. She became well known for her work combating the discrimination faced by marginalized communities.

In 2019, Clarke represented Taylor Dumpson, the first African-American woman student body president of American University, in her lawsuit against Andrew Anglin, who placed bananas around campus. He then directed his followers to harass her on social media, a so-called “troll storm.” Clarke successfully fought for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to recognize that hateful online trolling can interfere with access to public accommodation, as well as securing damages and a restraining order.

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

President-elect Joe Biden says that “it’s my expectation and hope that the Senate will now move to confirm these nominees promptly and fairly.”

 

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