Senate confirms Clarke as first Black woman to lead DOJ civil rights

The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Kristen ClarkeKristen ClarkeDOJ settles with Pennsylvania city over language barriers to Spanish-speaking residents Justice faces pressure for action on civil rights post-Trump Senate confirms Clarke as first Black woman to lead DOJ civil rights MORE as the new head of the Justice Department's civil rights division in a tight 51-48 vote, with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsWhite House reiterates opposition to raising gas tax amid infrastructure debate Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (Maine) the only Republican to cross party lines and vote for her.

Clarke will be the first Black woman to lead the influential wing of the Justice Department and will serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights.

The civil rights division's tasks include investigating local law enforcement agencies and taking on state voting restrictions around the country.


The confirmation was held on the one-year anniversary of George Floyd's murder by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April. 

Republicans opposed Clarke's nomination, painting her as anti-police and radical, while Democrats dismissed such arguments as smear tactics.

The nomination in the Senate Judiciary Committee was deadlocked at 11-11, but that does not prevent Clarke's nomination from going to the floor.

Clarke during her confirmation hearing in April said she did not support "defunding the police."

“I do support finding strategies to ensure that law enforcement can carry out their jobs more safely and effectively, and channeling resources to emotional health treatment and other severely under-resourced areas, I think, is one path forward,” she said at the time.

Until being nominated for the senior Justice Department position, Clarke was the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


In that role, she was a staunch advocate for the John LewisJohn LewisCommemorating Juneteenth: Learn from the past to improve the present and future Joe Manchin keeps Democrats guessing on sweeping election bill Hundreds in West Virginia protest Manchin's opposition to voting rights legislation MORE Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would revise the formula that drove the federal preclearance present in the original Voting Rights Act.

The Supreme Court in 2013 ruled the formula outdated and therefore unconstitutional, though Chief Justice John Roberts gave Congress the green light to update the formula.

The battle over Clarke's nomination echoed the fight over Vanita Gupta's confirmation battle for the No. 3 slot at Justice. 

Gupta was confirmed in a 51-49 vote, with Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiTrump endorses Murkowski challenger Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Senate confirms Radhika Fox to lead EPA's water office MORE (Alaska) the only GOP crossover vote.

Gupta and Clarke both had the backing of law enforcement groups, even as conservative lawmakers sought to paint them as anti-police.