The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Kristen Clarke to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, making her the first woman of color to be confirmed by the Senate to do so.
Ms. Clarke was ceremonially sworn in shortly before 7 p.m. in a brief ceremony at the Justice Department. Ms. Clarke’s mother, Pansy Clarke, held the Bible as Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office.
Attorney General Merrick Garland delivered brief remarks. The deputy attorney general, Lisa O. Monaco, and the associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, were also in attendance.
Ms. Clarke’s confirmation comes at a time when the Biden administration has vowed to revitalize the division as part of its promise to combat systemic racism, hate crimes and restrictive voter laws.
Ms. Clarke was confirmed by a vote of 51 to 48, largely along party lines. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, broke with her party to support Ms. Clarke’s confirmation. Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, did not vote.
A number of Republicans took to the Senate floor to argue Ms. Clarke supported reducing police department budgets. But Ms. Collins said that she believed that Ms. Clarke would not support such efforts, after studying Ms. Clark’s professional record, including her work as a prosecutor during the George W. Bush administration.
Ms. Collins said that Ms. Clarke gave her a letter saying she was “committed to to ensuring that law enforcement officers have the resources that they need.”
The daughter of Jamaican immigrants who rose from a Brooklyn housing project to earn degrees from Harvard and Columbia Law School, Ms. Clarke is best known as a leading advocate for voting rights protections. Her expertise will make her a key player in the administration’s effort to push back on laws that could restrict access to the ballot box.
During her confirmation hearing, Ms. Clarke, 46, said that she would use all of the tools at her disposal, including the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act and the Uniformed and Overseas Absentee Citizens Voting Act, to ensure that eligible Americans continued to have the right to vote.
In supporting her nomination, Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chair of the Judiciary Committee, said that Ms. Clarke was poised to become the first Senate-confirmed woman of color to lead the civil rights division on the one-year anniversary of Mr. Floyd’s murder by the former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
He said that Ms. Clarke’s “breadth of experience defending the civil rights of all” made her “singularly qualified to lead this division, particularly at this moment in history.”
The civil rights division has already been involved in some of the Justice Department’s most high-profile work under the Biden administration, including the recently announced investigations into police practices in Minneapolis, Minn., and Louisville, Ky., and the federal indictment of the officers involved in the killing of George Floyd.
The work of the civil rights division is also likely to dovetail with the administration’s efforts to stem the threat of domestic terrorism, as numerous national security officials have testified that white supremacists currently pose the greatest domestic extremist threat.
Republicans largely opposed Ms. Clarke. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, said that she was a partisan and radical nominee who had sharply criticized centrists like Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, and Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia.