Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland defended Kristen Clarke, the attorney chosen to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, during a heated exchange with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, at his confirmation hearing Monday.
Clarke, Biden’s nominee to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights, attracted scrutiny in recent weeks for a revived letter in 1994 that she was co-authored by the Harvard Crimson. Clarke presented the letter as a denunciation of the findings of the controversial book “The Bell Curve,” which suggested that intelligence was linked to genetic and environmental factors.
In the letter, Clarke wrote, among other things, that “Black babies sit, stand, crawl and walk earlier than whites” and “Melanin endows blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities.” While Clarke has maintained that the intent of his letter was misinterpreted, critics, including Lee, have questioned his suitability for a position in the Justice Department.
THE HIGHEST DEM JUDICIAL SENATE SUPPORTS DOJ CIVIL RIGHTS NOMINEE KRISTIN CLARKE IN THE MIDDLE OF RESURFECTED COMMENTS
Lee referenced the situation in a question to Garland, initiating a tense exchange.
“Would past statements by an individual as an adult stating that one racial group is superior to another, would statements like that be relevant to an assessment of whether that person should be put in charge of directing the civil rights division of the Department of Justice?” Lee asked the candidate for attorney general.
“I have read, in the last few days, these accusations about Kristen Clarke, whom I have also gotten to know, who I also trust, who I believe is a person of integrity, whose views on the civil rights division I have discussed with her and they are in line with mine, “Garland said in response. “I have every reason to love her. She is a former line prosecutor with hate crime experience and we need someone like that,” Garland said before being interrupted by Lee.
“I’m not asking about her as a person, I’m asking about the statement,” Lee said.
“All I can tell you is that I’ve had a lot of conversations with her about her views on the civil rights division, what kind of issues she would investigate,” Garland said.
“What about the anti-Semitic comments? Would they be relevant?” Lee said.
Garland, who previously detailed his own family’s experiences with anti-Semitism, was visibly angered after that question.
“You know my views on anti-Semitism. No one needs to question them,” Garland said. “I am a good judge of what an anti-Semite is and I don’t think it is anti-Semitic and I don’t think it is discriminatory in any way.
Earlier this year, Forward asked Clarke to explain her decision to write the letter, as well as her decision, while serving as president of the Harvard Black Students Association, to host Professor Tony Martin, who then made comments. anti-Semites.
In response, Clarke said that the letter was in response to “The Bell Curve, which was” generating great recognition for its racist views. “He said that his decision to begin the letter” with an absurd claim that blacks are superiors based on the melanin in their skin “was” to hold a mirror to reflect how reprehensible the premise of black inferiority was. “
“I intended to express an equally absurd point of view: to fight a ridiculous and absurd racist theory with another ridiculous absurd theory,” Clarke said, “and the goal was [exposing] the ugly racist foundations of the Bell Curve theory. “
Clarke said it was a “mistake” to host Martin and said he “unequivocally denounced[s] anti-Semitism. “
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Prior to her nomination, Clarke served as chair of the advocacy group for the civil rights under the law group. She also served as the head of the civil rights division under former New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.
As head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Clarke would lead efforts to push through police reform and other efforts to combat systemic racism. Biden is committed to making civil rights reform a priority in his administration.
Clarke could face scrutiny during his own confirmation hearing regarding his stance on police reform. In a Newsweek column last year, he called for a “strategic” effort to subtract funds from the police in favor of other community programs. Calls to withdraw funds from the police have enraged Republican lawmakers in recent months.