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Dead Heat in Partisan Judiciary Committee Vote Puts Kristen Clarke’s DOJ Civil Rights Nomination in Senate’s Court


Sharply divided along partisan lines, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on Kristen Clarke’s nomination to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division on Thursday.

In the wake of the Committee’s 11-11 vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) now can send Clarke’s nomination to the floor in a bid to make her the first Black woman to hold that post. No Republicans voted in her favor, subjecting the nominee to vitriolic attacks by Republican Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas depicting her as “extreme” and insinuating that she has associated with people who hold antisemitic views.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) strongly pushed back against that innuendo shortly before the vote, pointing to the full-throated backing she has received by the National Council of Jewish Women, the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reformed Judaism, and 79 local, state, national, Jewish organizations.

“She’s fought hatred,” Blumenthal noted. “She’s fought bias and bigotry, not only against members of the Jewish faith, but against Muslims, and blacks, and others. And because she has fought so vigorously for civil rights and liberties, and because he has been a prosecutor of unquestionable character and ability, I strongly support her nomination.”

“I think that, at the end of the day, all of these talking points based on headlines of articles, based on smokescreen allegations, simply fall have under their own weight,” Blumenthal added. “They have no basis in fact.”

Clarke made her history with storied civil rights organizations a pivot point of her nomination.

“When I left DOJ, I carried the words of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as my guide: ‘Where you see wrong or inequality or injustice, speak out, because this is your country. This is your democracy. Make it. Protect it. Pass it on,’” Clarke wrote in her written remarks on April 14, when her confirmation proceedings began. “I’ve tried to do just that at every step of my career.”

Before becoming the first Black Supreme Court justice, Marshall founded the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. Clarke served the voting rights project of that organization and as the top civil rights officer at the New York State Attorney General’s Office, before her long career within the Department of Justice.

Serving both Democratic and Republican administrations, Clarke served in the Justice Department’s Attorney General’s Honors Program for six years, primarily during the George W. Bush administration.

Bipartisanship was in short supply on Thursday, when Clarke’s confirmation vote fell almost entirely on partisan lines.

Shortly before the vote, Cruz, like other members of his party, attacked Clarke for her Newsweek editorial titled “I Prosecuted Police Killings. Defund the Police—But Be Strategic.” Cruz claimed, falsely, that the editorial advocated abolishing the police, but the article attributed that position to certain Black Lives Matter activists. Clarke herself advocated reforming police department, and she said that the magazine selected the provocative headline, not her.

Cruz strongly supported former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, an effort that relied heavily on invalidating votes cast in the most racially diverse counties in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Georgia and elsewhere.

If confirmed, Clarke would be tasked with protecting voting rights, among other matters.

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."