Kristen Clarke, President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, advanced pseudoscientific theories of black racial superiority and organized an event with a notorious anti-Semite as a student at Harvard University.
Clarke and a coauthor outlined "the genetic differences between Blacks and whites" in a 1994 letter to the editors of Harvard's student newspaper, which criticized the political scientist Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve. The genetic difference they identify, varying levels of melanin between whites and blacks, accounts for disparate cognitive abilities, physical power, and even spirituality, the pair said. The so-called melanin theory has no basis in science.
"Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities—something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards," they wrote.
Clarke's remarks will ignite a white-hot confirmation battle in the Senate at a time of heightened racial tension. Though the incendiary statements are more than 25 years old, several of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees were grilled over comparatively tamer items they wrote as college students, prompting public apologies and even a withdrawal. If confirmed, Clarke would shape federal litigation strategies and lead enforcement of the nation's civil-rights statutes. Tucker Carlson Tonight was the first to report on her writings.
Clarke also came in for criticism from Jewish students after she invited the anti-Semitic academic Tony Martin to campus in her capacity as president of the Black Students Association. Martin, then a professor of Africana studies at Wellesley College, promoted false theories implicating a Jewish cabal in the global slave trade and self-published a book called The Jewish Onslaught just one year before visiting Harvard at Clarke's request. A majority of Martin's faculty colleagues condemned the book as anti-Semitic, according to a 2001 column in the Boston Globe.
"Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed Black intellectual who bases his information of [sic] indisputable fact," Clarke said in response to critics of Martin's visit.
Though the views Clarke advanced at Harvard might be excused as harmless dorm-room radicalism, senators from both parties were hard on Trump nominees who made milder remarks as college students.
Ryan Bounds was one such nominee. He was slated for a seat on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals until a leftwing advocacy group circulated a series of opinion columns he wrote about race-based student groups and campus multicultural initiatives as a student at Stanford.
In one piece, Bounds mocked diversity events as "feel-good ethnic hoedowns." In another, he said the school's "strident racial factions" employed tactics similar to those of the Nazis. He apologized for those and other statements during his confirmation hearing, calling them overheated and disrespectful.
Sens. Tim Scott (R., S.C.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) nonetheless joined with Democrats and opposed Bounds on a procedural vote, citing Bounds's undergraduate writings and their belated disclosure to lawmakers. The White House withdrew Bounds's nomination in July 2018.
Judge Neomi Rao's 2019 nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was likewise endangered over an op-ed she wrote about alcohol and sexual assault. As an undergraduate at Yale, Rao argued that women bear some complicity for date rape.
"A woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink," she wrote. "And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice. Implying that a drunk woman has no control over her actions, but a drunk man does, strips women of all moral responsibility."
The article seriously imperiled Rao's nomination. At the time, Sen. Joni Ernst (R., Iowa) had only just revealed that she was sexually assaulted in college. Ernst said the column gave her pause, and she met privately with Rao to smooth the issue over. Ernst's concerns came as Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) suggested he would oppose Rao, citing legal scholarship Rao produced hinting at a liberal bent on social issues.
Justice Clarence Thomas, a Rao mentor, ultimately helped salvage the nomination. The justice spoke privately with Hawley and Scott about Rao, who clerked in his chambers in 2001. She was confirmed in March 2019.
The Biden transition office did not respond to requests for comment about Clarke.