The United States Senate on May 25 narrowly confirmed Kristen Clarke as the first Black woman to lead the civil rights division of the Justice Department.
Senate voted 51 to 48 to confirm Clarke as the assistant attorney general for civil rights, with Senator Susan Collins being the only Republican to vote in favor of Clarke.
Senate Republicans cited Clarke’s previous statements on policing to fight against her confirmation, questioning if she can be a nonpartisan enforcer of civil rights.
“A vote for Kristen Clarke is a vote to defund the police,” Senator Tom Cotton said before the vote.
Clarke defended her previous statements during her confirmation hearing in April, saying that she does not support defunding the police but supports allocating funds to other resources.
Clarke, a longtime civil rights attorney and president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, will head the division in charge of investigating police abuses, upholding civil and constitutional rights, and enforcing federal statutes to prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and other factors.
“All people nationwide can be confident that we now have a civil rights leader who will enforce federal laws that protect us from discrimination and defend constitutional rights,” the committee’s Acting President and Executive Director Damon Hewitt said in a statement.
“She is exactly the person we need at this moment when threats to civil rights have peaked,” Hewitt further stated.
Clarke’s confirmation comes on the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, the Black man killed by former white Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin who pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes.
Clarke’s confirmation also comes as a series of protests against racial injustice and police brutality have taken place across the U.S. in months.