Kristen Clarke, Esq.
Chief, Civil Rights Bureau
New York State Attorney General’s Office
New York City
In 2011, Kristen Clarke argued an important case concerning the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. The Court’s negative ruling has only ignited her commitment to civil rights work. Her focus on fighting for justice and equality was forged many years ago. “Going to a boarding school alongside some remarkable students, some of whom were incredibly privileged, opened my eyes to inequality in ways that I hadn’t appreciated before,” says Clarke, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. “It forged a sense of obligation to do work to close the gaps and advance the public interest.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and a Juris Doctor from Columbia Law School, and built a career fighting inequality and discrimination for the United States Department of Justice and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Today, she heads the Civil Rights Bureau for the New York State Attorney General’s Office, promoting voting rights, access to fair housing, equal employment and educational opportunities, and other civil liberties. “There are some who feel we have overcome the problem of discrimination. My work reminds the public that we are not yet post-racial and that these issues are still very real and tangible,” she says.
Clarke’s work has been shaped by the late Columbia University professor Manning Marable, with whom she worked on two books; civil rights lawyer Ted Shaw; and by her father, who followed politics and current events closely. “Some of his values have rubbed off on me — his fire and joy of debating,” she says of her father. Clarke recently earned an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award for her work. Despite the accolades, she knows there is still much work to be done. “We can’t be blinded by the progress we’ve made,” she asserts.