In recent months, Clarke has been repeatedly attacked by Republicans for alleged anti-Semitism, dating to her time leading Harvard’s Black Students’ Association, when the group invited an anti-Semitic author to speak. Sen. Richard Blumenthal offered her the chance to speak to that, quoting Attorney General Merrick Garland’s unequivocal defense of Clarke during his own confirmation hearing, when he responded to Lee’s questions by saying “I’m a pretty good judge of what an anti-Semite is, and I do not believe she is an anti-Semite.”
”I could not be an effective civil rights lawyer if I did not have the ability and capacity to work with, alongside, and on behalf of all people, of all backgrounds, regardless of race, religion, national background, and more,” Clarke said. “Anti-Semitism is real, and is something that I have fought throughout my career.” She went on to describe the Lawyers’ Committee’s work against neo-Nazis and a New York State Attorney General’s Office religious rights unit she helped to launch, and cited her endorsements from a long list of Jewish organizations.
In its endorsement of Clarke, the Union for Reform Judaism wrote, “Our experience working alongside Ms. Clarke to oppose hate in all its forms makes clear that her life has been dedicated to the civil rights values that should and must be reflected within the Department of Justice.
“We are deeply pained that there are some who are weaponizing antisemitism in their effort to derail Ms. Clarke’s nomination. The violence at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue and at Poway’s Chabad synagogue, the gathering of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, and the growing participation in online hate forums demonstrates that the threat from anti-Semites is real. We cannot be distracted from our shared mission to defeat these hateful forces by spurious claims of antisemitism. The real ones are all too prevalent.”
At the hearing, though, Republicans spent less time on this issue than on assailing Clarke for opposing racism.
Sen. John Cornyn distinguished himself by pressing Clarke about a satiric piece she wrote as a 19-year-old college student, reversing the racist tropes of the book The Bell Curve to declare “African Americans were genetically superior to Caucasians.” Emphasizing that, yes, the obvious satire was satire, Clarke also pointed out that “contemporaneous reporting by the campus paper made very clear that this was not a view that I espoused. What I was seeking to do was to hold up a mirror, and put one racist theory alongside another to challenge people as to why we were unwilling to wholly reject the racist theory that defined The Bell Curve book.”
“So this was satire?” Cornyn replied, sounding bewildered. Yet, despite Clarke’s very clear—and documentable—answer, he then took to Twitter to defend himself against eyerolling at the ridiculous question, tweeting, “Should we give all nominees the benefit of the doubt? That doesn’t seem to be the prevailing standard. Should we apply a double standard? I think not.”
This is a man who had Donald Trump’s back every step of the way talking about how it would be a double standard if he didn’t attack a Black woman for decades-old satire.
Sen. Mike Lee also jumped in on the “you’re the real racist” angle, by spitting out what he called a “non-exhaustive list of elements of American society, elements that you have at one point or another described as ‘racist.’” That list included police departments, federal agencies, AirBnB, and more, all of which have at minimum committed acts of racism. Sen. Ted Cruz tried to paint Clarke as a full-throated proponent of defunding police, which she is not, though she has called for the U.S. to “invest less in police and more in social workers.”
Sen. Tom Cotton, who previously attacked Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, for understanding that implicit bias is a real thing, this time attacked Clarke for thinking that police officers who kill unarmed Black people should be prosecuted. This was the issue he chose to go all in on during the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd, and on the day former officer Kim Potter was charged with manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright.
This comes after they have consistently saved their fiercest opposition to Biden nominees for women of color: Clarke’s treatment is part of a pattern. To these Republicans, the act of taking civil rights and racism seriously is an obvious disqualification—to run the Civil Rights Division. Being a Black woman taking civil rights and racism seriously is grounds for naked hostility, and that was what Republicans directed at Clarke.