Holder, Yates lead letter backing Biden pick for Civil Rights Division at DOJ

A group of former Justice Department officials, including former Attorney General Eric Holder and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, wrote to senators on Monday in support of President Biden's nominee to lead the department's Civil Rights Division.

The bipartisan letter, obtained by The Hill, praises Kristen Clarke's credentials to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights on the eve of her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The Justice Department and U.S. Attorney community need an effective leader at the helm of the Civil Rights Division, someone with immense credibility, who is capable of building partnerships and trust with state and local law enforcement, with community organizations and leaders, and with our offices," the letter states. "Ms. Clarke is one of the leading civil rights lawyers in America, and she is uniquely suited to carry on this work of coalition-building as the head of the Civil Rights Division."

The letter was sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), as well as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Nearly 60 former Justice Department officials and U.S. attorneys signed on to the letter. Holder and Yates served as attorney general and deputy attorney general, respectively, during the Obama administration, while Yates briefly served as acting attorney general at the beginning of the Trump administration.

Other signatories include Stuart Gerson, who served as assistant attorney general for the civil division under George H.W. Bush; Donald Ayer, who served as deputy attorney general for George H.W. Bush; Jamie Gorelick, who served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration; Seth Waxman, who served as solicitor general during the Clinton administration; and dozens of former U.S. attorneys spanning multiple administrations.

"This is a critical time in our nation's history, when violent extremism is on the rise, hate crimes against vulnerable communities are more commonplace, and our institutions have been undermined by disinformation and chaos," the letter states.

"The Civil Rights Division will play a key role in addressing these pressing issues and protecting the rights of vulnerable populations," it continues. "Ms. Clarke's experience, in addition to her high character, make her a superior choice to lead that important Division."

The vote of confidence for Clarke comes ahead of what could be a contentious Senate hearing on Wednesday as Republicans are likely to focus on some of her past comments dating back to her time at Harvard that have generated controversy.

If confirmed, Clarke would be the first Senate-confirmed woman and woman of color to head the Civil Rights Division.

Her confirmation hearing comes at a tense time for the country in the wake of yet another police shooting of a Black man. Daunte Wright, 20, was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., located just a short drive from Minneapolis, where George Floyd's death sparked nationwide protests last summer over police brutality and racial injustice.

Clarke would also be tasked with addressing a sharp rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans and as Republican state legislatures around the country have proposed measures to tighten voting restrictions that experts say disproportionately affect minorities.

Clarke previously earned the endorsement of multiple former Republican officials, including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.