Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland, famed for his even temperament, had a heated exchange with Sen. Mike Lee regarding the nomination of Kristen Clarke to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
“Would an individual’s past statements … as an adult, declaring that one racial group is superior to another, would statements like that be relevant to an evaluation of whether such a person should be put in charge of running the Department of Justice’s civil rights division?” Lee asked Garland during his confirmation hearing.
Clarke, who has been tapped to serve as assistant attorney general for civil rights, has faced criticism in recent weeks after a 1994 letter she co-authored in the Harvard Crimson, seemingly discussing the superiority of black people, resurfaced.
“Black infants sit, stand, crawl and walk sooner than whites,” the letter read, adding that “Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities.”
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“I’ve read, in the last few days, these allegations about Kristen Clarke, who I’ve also gotten to know. Who I also trust. Who I believe is a person of integrity. Whose views about the civil rights division I have discussed with her, and they are in line with my own,” Garland said in response to Lee’s question. “I have every reason to want her. She is an experienced former line prosecutor of hate crimes, and we need somebody like that.”
“I’m not asking about her as a person. I’m asking about the statement,” Lee fired back.
“All I can tell you is I’ve had many conversations with her about her views about the civil rights division, about what kind of matters she would investigate,” Garland responded.
Clarke has defended the letter she wrote nearly three decades ago, saying it was in response to The Bell Curve, a book released around the same time that was accused of featuring racist claims about black intellect. Clarke said she was simply countering the “absurd” claims of the book with absurd claims of her own in an attempt to highlight its flaws.
But the letter wasn’t the only controversial aspect of Clarke’s time at Harvard, with Lee pointing out that Clarke also invited professor Tony Martin to campus in her role as president of Harvard’s Black Students Association. Martin used the appearance to make anti-Semitic remarks.
“What about anti-Semitic comments. Would those be relevant?” Lee asked Garland in reference to her invitation to Martin.
Lee’s question appeared to irritate Garland as he had earlier detailed his own family’s experiences with anti-Semitism.
“You know my views on anti-Semitism. No one needs to question those,” Garland responded. “I’m a pretty good judge of what an anti-Semite is, and I do not believe that she is an anti-Semite. And I do not believe that she is discriminatory in any sense.”
“I believe [she] is a person of integrity, whose views about Civil Rights Division I have discussed with her and they are in line with my own.”
Garland says the DOJ needs “somebody like” Kristen Clarke, who wrote that black people had “superior physical and mental abilities.” pic.twitter.com/KQvXAGizIG
— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer)
February 22, 2021
Garland’s temperament has been lauded, especially when compared to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who Garland was nominated to replace by President Barack Obama in 2016.
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The attorney general nominee was never confirmed to fill Scalia’s seat on the court, with the Republican majority at the time refusing to hold hearings on a nominee for the seat until after that year’s election.