Civil rights attorney Jessica Clarke, currently with the New York Attorney General’s Office, is President Biden’s second nomination to the Southern District of New York.
The 38 year old Clarke gained her undergraduate degree from Northwestern University in 2005 and then gained a J.D. from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law in 2008.
After graduating, Clarke clerked for Judge Solomon Oliver on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. Clarke then joined the Department of Justice, working in the Civil Rights Division during the Obama Administration. In 2016, Clarke left to join the civil rights firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. In 2019, Clarke joined the New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau as Chief, where she currently works.
History of the Seat
Clarke has been tapped for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to a seat vacated by Judge Colleen McMahon, who took senior status on April 21, 2021. Clarke was recommended by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on September 1, 2021 and was nominated on December 15, 2021.
Clarke started her post-clerkship career at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, where she worked on the Housing & Civil Enforcement Division. Notably, Clarke was trial counsel for the government in prosecuting the towns of Colorado City, Arizona, and Hildale, Utah, for discriminating in housing against individuals who were not members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. See Fernanda Santos, Town on Trial in Complaints of Bias Against Sect Outsiders, N.Y. Times, Jan. 21, 2016. Lawyers for the town accused the government of discriminating against an unpopular religion. See id. The trial ended with a verdict for the government, which was upheld on appeal. See Howard Fischer, Court Upholds Ruling Colorado City Abused Power, Arizona Capitol Times, Aug. 26, 2019, https://azcapitoltimes.com/news/2019/08/26/court-upholds-ruling-colorado-city-abused-power/.
From 2016 to 2019, Clarke was at the Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady. During this time, Clarke represented Stephanie Rosenfeld, a Brooklyn prosecutor who alleged that her colleagues illegally wiretapped her cellphone. See Rosenfeld v. Leach, 370 F. Supp. 3d 335 (E.D.N.Y. 2019).
Since 2019, Clarke has been with the New York Attorney General’s Office. Among the matters she handled there, Clarke led the Attorney General’s successful suit against Rennselear County’s use of limited early voting polling locations, in which a judge found that the locations chosen would not lead to equitable access to the polls. See People v. Schofield, 2021 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5247 (N.Y.S. June 7, 2021).
Given her youth and focus on civil rights litigation, Clarke is likely to draw opposition from Republican Senators. However, there is little that would draw Democratic senators to oppose her, which gives Clarke a strong chance at both confirmation and, potentially, elevation.