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Approving Kristen Clarke’s nomination should be a no-brainer

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Kristen Clarke is so eminently qualified to lead the civil rights division at the U.S. Department of Justice that her confirmation by a large bipartisan Senate majority should be a no-brainer — presuming you respect the mission of the division. With her nomination poised to go the Senate floor within days, despite last-minute right-wing efforts to scuttle it, I hope Senators still do.

I had the privilege of leading the civil rights division during the first term of President Bill Clinton. 

I considered it the ultimate patriotic assignment. Why? Because we are the only nation in human history founded on a handful of civic ideals. Freedom, we have come to understand, requires equality, opportunity and fair play. Our national commitment to make freedom a reality for all Americans is expressed in the very laws the division is charged to enforce. To stand up for those laws is to stand up for American ideals.  

Clarke has made a career of just such acts of patriotism. She has handled a wide variety of civil rights cases and achieved meaningful results, mastering the substance of civil rights law. 

Significantly, she has also approached the work as a problem solver, firm in her support of her clients and cause, but able to listen to and actually hear her adversaries. She has demonstrated the skill of finding workable solutions to advance our ideals and the common good. As a result, her nomination has earned the support of civil rights advocates and police organizations, underrepresented minorities and business leaders.  

Let that sink in. At a moment when hyper-partisan division poisons nearly everything in politics, Clarke has earned the respect and support of friend and foe alike. 

The civil rights division needs a problem solver at the helm because the challenges before us are still hard and are still in urgent need of solutions. And solving them is still a test of our national commitment to America’s civic ideals.  

America as a model of successful democracy doesn’t work when states make it harder for citizens to participate and to vote 

America as a beacon of liberty and justice for all rings hollow when Black citizens live in mortal fear of a routine traffic stop, when Asian Americans live in fear of hate violence while out for a walk, or when anti-Semitism, religious intolerance and white supremacy present an unchecked threat to all of us.  

America as the land of opportunity is meaningless where deep inequities in health, education, housing and income persist because of unlawful decisions and policies.  

The business of the civil rights division is to enforce the laws that make American aspirations real. Clarke can do this job because she has done this work, consistently with clarity, professionalism, integrity and grace. She is a patriot ready for patriotic work.   

Over 25 years ago, when I was nominated to head the civil rights division, the issues were no less complex or vexing. For most of American history, they have been. Controversy swirled around my own confirmation hearing, just as around Clarke’s today. There were even dishonest efforts to smear my record and reputation, as there have been in the weeks leading up to Clarke’s hearing.  

And yet Democrats and Republicans alike, on the Judiciary Committee and in the Senate as a whole, were able to separate fact from fiction, the motives of the detractors from the requirements of the job and qualifications to do it — because they believed in or at least respected the fundamentally patriotic mission of the civil rights division.  

If Senators today still do, Clarke will be confirmed. I know I will breathe easier when she is. 

Deval Patrick is former assistant attorney general for Civil Rights and former governor of Massachusetts. He is the cochair of American Bridge 21st Century. 

Tags Bill Clinton Civil Rights Division Civil rights movement Deval Patrick DOJ Federal government of the United States Kristen Clarke United States

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