Biden DOJ Enlists Kristen Clarke, Who Defended Black Nationalists Charged With Voter Intimidation, To Combat Voter Intimidation

Kristen Clarke (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)
April 18, 2024

Justice Department civil rights chief Kristen Clarke released guidelines this week on how to report cases of voter intimidation, asserting that "voter intimidation has no place in our democracy." Years earlier, Clarke defended a New Black Panther Party member who threatened a Philadelphia poll worker while brandishing a club.

As a civil rights attorney in 2009, Clarke lobbied the Obama administration to drop a case against members of the New Black Panther Party charged with intimidating voters and poll workers in Philadelphia. Two members of the militant group, one holding a billy club, called black poll workers working for the GOP "race traitors" and said there "would be hell to pay" because of the workers' party affiliation.

A Justice Department lawyer told a federal oversight panel that Clarke, then a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, "was lobbying for the dismissal of the New Black Panther Party case before it was dismissed." Clarke during her 2021 Senate confirmation hearing dodged questions about her involvement, telling lawmakers that "there were many people who deemed that a weak case." The Bush administration filed the case in January 2009, but the Obama administration dropped it months later, drawing widespread allegations of political interference.

Clarke's involvement in the matter could raise concerns that the Biden administration will apply a double standard to voter intimidation cases in the upcoming election. Some Republicans have cited the case of Douglass Mackey, convicted of voter suppression for posting memes on social media that encouraged black voters to vote by text message for Hillary Clinton. Mackey, who was arrested days after Biden took office, was sentenced last year to seven months in prison.

In her latest guidelines, Clarke urged voters to contact the FBI should they face threats of violence or acts of intimidation. "If someone tries to prevent you from voting by threatening to hurt you, spreading intentionally false information about where, when, or how to vote, deliberately blocking your access to the polling place, or similar acts, call the FBI," she said.

Republicans have raised other concerns about Clarke's views toward police and racially charged issues. In 2020, she published an op-ed that suggested police departments should be defunded. In 2019, she criticized the Chicago Police Department for questioning Jussie Smollett, the actor later found to have fabricated a hate crime.

Republicans have said that Clarke's rhetoric shows an animus against police officers, which would be relevant because her office oversees investigations into police departments and civil rights cases involving law enforcement officers.

The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment.