Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) fumbled an effort to catch out Assistant Attorney General nominee Kristen Clarke on Wednesday about an opinion column she’d written while she was a university student at Harvard.
“Miss Clarke, Martin Luther King famously said that he had a dream of the day when his children would be known by the content of their character and not the color of their skin,” Cornyn opened his questioning at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. “Do you agree with that?”
“Absolutely, Senator,” Clarke replied.
“Well, maybe there’s a misprint, but I’m sure you can clear it up for me, dating back to your days in school when you seemed to argue that African Americans were genetically superior to Caucasians. Is that correct?” Cornyn asked.
“No, Senator,” Clarke replied. “I believe you are referring to an op-ed that I wrote at the age of 19 about the Bell Curve theory, a racist book that equated DNA with genetics and race.”
“As a Black student at Harvard that time, we took grave offense to this book,” she continued. “It was co-authored by a Harvard professor. We held a number of events to speak out against the book, and this op-ed opened with a satirical reference to the statement that you just noted.”
She told Cornyn that other reporting in the student newspaper at the time made it clear she did not espouse those views.
“What I was trying 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,” she said.
“So, this was satire?” Cornyn asked.
When she said that it was, he added, “And where was that published?”
“In the student paper, The Harvard Crimson,” Clarke reiterated. “There’s contemporaneous reporting from that time ― from that day ― that makes clear that these were not views that I espoused, Senator.”
Clarke, who previously worked as a Justice Department lawyer and served as executive director of a large civil rights group, is President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. If confirmed, she will be the first woman and first woman of color to lead the division.