Kamala Devi Harri is an American lawyer and politician serving as the junior United States Senator from California since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, she previously served as the 27th District Attorney of San Francisco from 2004 to 2011 and 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 until 2017. She ran as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 election, before dropping out on December 3, 2019.
Harris was born in Oakland, California, and is a graduate of Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law. In the 1990s, she worked in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and the City Attorney of San Francisco’s office. In 2004, she was elected District Attorney of San Francisco.
Harris won the election as California’s Attorney General in 2010 and was reelected in 2014 by a wide margin. On November 8, 2016, she defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to succeed outgoing Senator Barbara Boxer, becoming California’s third female U.S. Senator, and the first of either Jamaican or Indian ancestry. Since becoming a Senator, she has supported single-payer healthcare, federal descheduling of cannabis, support for sanctuary cities, the DREAM Act, a ban on assault rifles, and lowering the tax burden for the working and middle classes while raising taxes on corporations and the wealthiest one percent of Americans.
Early life and education
Harris (right) with her sister Maya in 2014.
Kamala Devi Harris was born on October 20, 1964 in Oakland, California. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a Tamil Indian breast-cancer scientist who immigrated to the United States from Madras, India, in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley). Her father, Donald Harris, is a Stanford University economics professor who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study in economics at UC Berkeley. Harris has one younger sister, Maya Harris. Her mother insisted on giving them both Sanskrit names derived from Hindu mythology to help preserve their cultural identity. She is also a descendant of a slave owner from Jamaica.
She identifies as black and Indian, but sees her experience primarily as American. Harris was raised in Berkeley, California. She grew up attending both a Black Baptist church, where she and her sister sang in the choir, and a Hindu temple.
Her mother was an upper class Brahmin from the Besant Nagar neighborhood of Chennai, Tamil Nadu, whose “Gopalan” bloodline can be traced over 1,000 years. Shyamala was described as a “feminist concerned that the women who did her laundry were the victims of domestic violence.” As a child, Harris often visited her extended family in Chennai. She was also close to her diplomat grandfather, P. V. Gopalan.
Harris began kindergarten during the second year of Berkeley’s school desegregation busing program, which adopted the extensive use of busing to attempt to bring racial balance to each of the city’s public schools; a bus drove her to a school which, two years prior, had been 95% white.
Harris’ parents divorced when she was seven, and her mother was granted custody of Harris and her sister. After the divorce, when she and her sister would visit their father in Palo Alto on the weekends, she stated that neighbors’ kids were not allowed to play with them because they were black.
When Harris was 12, she and her sister moved with their mother to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where she had accepted a position doing research at Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University. She was a popular student at Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec. As a teenager, Harris co-founded a small dance troupe of six dancers that played at community centres and fundraisers.
Harris graduated from high school in 1981. She went on to Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she double-majored in political science and economics, was elected to the liberal-arts student council, was on the debate team, organized mentor programs for local youth, demonstrated against apartheid, and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
Harris returned to California, where in 1989 she earned her Juris Doctor (J.D.) from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990. Believing the world needed “more socially aware prosecutors,” Harris decided to seek a career in law enforcement because she wanted to be “at the table where decisions are made”.
Main article: Electoral history of Kamala Harris
CA Attorney General’s office
In 1990, Harris was hired as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California where she was noted as being “an able prosecutor on the way up.” She specialized in child sexual abuse trials, which she observed were a difficult type of prosecution, given juries are more inclined to accept the word of an adult over the word of a child.
“Harris has a good courtroom presence, a high success rate. She is a genuinely good person and her social values will work well in San Francisco.” –– Tom Orloff, Alameda District Attorney
During this time, Harris also taught advocacy skills at Stanford and University of San Francisco.
Harris dated then-California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown from 1994 to 1995. Brown began introducing Harris to his political network, resulting in Harris being increasingly featured in local newspapers and society columns. According to Jack Davis, the manager of Brown’s campaign for mayor of San Francisco, “‘Brown [was] the darling of the well-to-do set… And she was the girlfriend, and so she met, you know, everybody who’s anybody, as a result of being his girl.'”
In 1994, Harris took leave of her position in Alameda County when Brown appointed her to the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board. The position paid $100,000 per year. Harris served on the board for six months. Then, during a lame-duck session, Brown appointed her to a three-year term on the California Medical Assistance Commission, overseeing Medi-Cal service contracts. The Commission reportedly met about once per month and paid commission members over $70,000 per year. Regarding these patronage positions, Harris has said:
“These jobs were created before I was born. Whether you agree or disagree with the system, I did the work. I worked hard to keep St. Luke’s Hospital open. I brought a level of life knowledge and common sense to the jobs. I mean, if you were asked to be on a board that regulated medical care, would you say no?”
Harris ended her relationship with Brown shortly after his mayoral inauguration. In 2003, she expressed frustration at being linked to Brown in the media; referring to him as an “albatross hanging around my neck,” she said, “I have no doubt that I am independent of him [Brown] –– and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me. His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing”. In 2015 she referred to Brown as “a mentor and friend.”
San Francisco ADA
National Forum on Wages and Working People, 2019
In February 1998, San Francisco District Attorney, Terence Hallinan, appointed Harris as an Assistant District Attorney. She became the chief of the Career Criminal Division, supervising five other attorneys, where she prosecuted homicide, burglary, robbery and sexual assault cases –– particularly Three-Strikes cases. Harris was noted as having been “an excellent mentor” in the office, and had been active in Hallinan’s 1999 re-election campaign through his December election. However, eight months later, Harris quit.
Harris reportedly clashed with Hallinan’s new chief assistant, Darrell Salomon –– a former personal attorney to Senator Dianne Feinstein with connections to City Hall, but no criminal prosecuting experience. Salomon was appointed in January after the previous chief, Richard Iglehart, was appointed to become a Superior Court Judge.
Salomon’s appointment coincided with the introduction of a state ballot measure –– Prop 21 –– which would be voted on in an election held in three months. The proposition would grant prosecutors the option of trying juvenile defendants in Superior Court rather than juvenile courts. This authority was usually only granted to judges and could have had a big impact in San Francisco where drug violations accounted for nearly 70% of prosecuted crimes.
Harris opposed the measure, as did Hallinan, who was the only District Attorney in the state to oppose the measure. However, Harris, concerned about the possibility of nearly 40,000 kids per year –– mostly minority –– being tried in adult court, became very involved in campaigning against the measure, including attending rallies as a speaker, writing position papers and volunteering for the “No-On-21” campaign on weekends. Her knowledge and commitment to the issue was such that the District Attorney’s Public Information Officer at the time, Fred Gardner, would give reporters the option to interview both Harris and Hallinan. However, doing so reportedly made Hallinan suspicious that Harris was trying to usurp him in preparation of challenging him for the next election (in 2003). Salomon approached Gardner and allegedly accused him of helping Harris:
“You’re trying to make a star out of Kamala Harris.”
Gardener dismissed the accusation, noting that “she [Harris] is already a star,” and was then reportedly told by Salomon to stop directing Prop 21 media inquiries to Harris as he believed Harris had “an agenda” given she was “Willie Brown’s protege.”
Gardener confronted Harris and inquired if she was planning to run in 2003. She reportedly replied that it would be “unprofessional” to run against Hallinan if he decided to run for a third term. Gardener relayed Harris’ response to Hallinan. However, Gardner stated that Hallinan “did not believe her.” Hallinan then ordered that all calls from reporters, not only those pertaining to Prop 21, go directly to him:
“I’m the elected official. I’m the D.A. It’s my office. Except for my spokesman, I don’t want anybody going to the media.”
Hallinan then reassigned Harris, which Harris believed to be a de facto demotion, and set a canary trap to test her loyalty by divulging supposedly confidential information to her and watching to see if was leaked to the media. It was, but the leaker turned out to be Hallinan himself, not Harris.
Shortly after her reassignment, Harris was a part of a group of supervisors who confronted Hallinan about Salomon, seeking to “overthrow” him. However, when their attempt failed, Harris then filed a complaint against Salomon and quit.
The spokesman for the District Attorney’s office called Harris’ defection “a sad day [because Harris was] a good lawyer, well-liked and brilliant.”
Salomon resigned two weeks after Harris left. He reportedly blamed Harris for “stirring up resentment towards him.”
In August 2000, Harris took a new job at San Francisco City Hall, working for elected City Attorney, Louise Renne. Renne hired Harris to take the place of Katherine Feinstein, after Feinstein was appointed as a Superior Court Judge. Harris ran the Family and Children’s Services Division representing child abuse and neglect cases, domestic violence, building code enforcement, and public health matters. Renne said of Harris:
“She will make the best DA this city has seen in years.”
2003 Campaign for District Attorney
Harris with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, 2004
Harris was reportedly so angry about the discontent in Terence Hallinan’s office that she decided to run against him. She began “methodically gathering support” by attending political events, volunteering on other campaigns, assuming board memberships on nonprofits, being seen at exclusive parties, and presenting herself as an alternative to a “political has-been.”
In mid-2002, Harris called Mark Buell, the stepfather of her friend, Summer Tompkins Walker, and told him of her intention to run for District Attorney against the two-term incumbent –– and her former boss. Buell was married to major Democratic megadonor, Susie Tompkins Buell. He was doubtful of Harris’ candidacy as he had only thought of her as “a socialite with a law degree” However, Buell, impressed by Harris, offered to be her finance chair.
Buell advised that to beat an incumbent, Harris would need to raise more than $150,000, the highest amount ever raised to campaign for the position. He and Harris organized a finance committee composed mostly of Harris’ friends, who were “young socialite ladies”. The committee included Vanessa Getty and Susan Swig. While Harris, saying that the black community was “her base”, set up her campaign office in Bayview –– the “most isolated neighborhood” in San Francisco –– the committee arranged for her to “routinely” raise money in the exclusive neighborhood of Pacific Heights, with 25% of her donations coming from Pacific Heights alone:
“The crowd seems fascinated by Harris, an intelligent woman of color who speaks their language, who knows their first names, and who understands that as liberals, they want to maintain law and order –– but with a certain San Franciscostyle noblesse oblige.”
Harris was also seeking to run a campaign that disrupted negative stereotypes of black women:
“…Black female candidates have to fight the perception that black women are not competent. When whites look at black women they see [them] as servants, maids or cooks…Being able to cross over into the white community is essential for any black, female or male, to succeed as a political figure. [They should] lay the groundwork by looking to become active on the boards of social, cultural and, charitable institutions like symphonies, museums, and hospitals. It’s the way to get respect from a world that otherwise is content to eschew or label you.” –– Willie Brown
When Harris announced her candidacy, she had served on the board of trustees of the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, had been a member of San Francisco Jazz Organization, was a patron dinner chair for the San Francisco Symphony’s Black & White Ball, was the executive director of the San Francisco Domestic Violence Consortium, led the board of directors of Partners Ending Domestic Abuse, and was a board member of nonprofit, Women Count. Harris was also documented attending exclusive events, dressing in luxury clothing such as Burberry, and dining with the heirs of billionaires:
“…people wanted to be able to say they’d met her and were supporting her because of this quasi-social network that we started with, and the more she raised, and the more she got traction, the more everybody else wanted to say they heard her, they talked to her and were supportive…but they were kind of professional socialites, and they wanted to help her. They saw it as a two-way street.” –– Sharon Owsley, Socialite and Attorney
In 2003, Harris entered the election, running against two-term incumbent and former boss, Terence Hallinan, and defense attorney, Bill Fazio. Harris was the least known candidate among the three, but noted to be “whip-smart, hard-working, and well-credentialed.”
Hallinan and Fazio sought to link Harris to Willie Brown, who was openly campaigning and fundraising for Harris, through a PAC –– California Voter Project –– though reportedly without her consent. Harris denied financially benefitting from Brown. However, Mark Buell later admitted that he met with Brown for lunch and Brown volunteered a campaign tactic to him. Buell also admitted that Brown personally donated $500 –– the individual donation maximum –– to Harris after Summer Tompkins Walker reportedly asked Brown to donate while at a restaurant.
“How can Harris root out corruption if she has Willie supporting her behind the scenes? I do not care that they had a relationship, but there are legitimate questions whether or not there is payback there.” –– Bill Fazio
However, Harris supporters said that statements used to tie her to Willie Brown were misogynistic. Harris’ sister, Maya, asked: “When a woman dates an accomplished man, why are people so willing to assume it’s only because of him that the woman is successful?”  Harris’ mother stated:
“What has Willie Brown done for her? Introduce her to society people when they dated? If they did not like Kamala on her own right, they would have dropped her after she dropped Willie. Kamala is comfortable in all kinds of social scenes. She can pull it off in high society, too. She has the manners, the eating habits.”
Harris’ campaign later successfully lobbied the 24-member Central Committee –– including U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein and then-House Majority leader Nancy Pelosi –– of the statewide Democratic party to deny their influential endorsement to either of Harris’ competitors. It was the first time the Central Committee had withheld its endorsement from an incumbent.
Campaign spending violation
Rally at USC, 2010
Harris was found to be guilty, by the city’s Ethics Commission, of violating campaign spending limit of $211,000, of which Harris had agreed to abide by before the campaign commenced. Harris had overspent the pledged amount by nearly $100,000. The Commission’s own staff was later accused of abusing its discretion, and favoring Harris, when it retroactively lifted the campaign spending limit after Harris’ campaign had spent over the limit, and when Harris’ campaign said that it was recognizing the Commission as the authority of the limit’s forms rather than the Department of Elections. The Commission denied the accusations, saying that its staff acted with its authority under local law.
Harris’ supporters said her campaign mistakenly violated the spending cap due to a “misinterpretation of confusing law changes” on the forms. They also argued that the cap put lesser-known candidates at a disadvantage, which was unfair since Harris had to spend more to increase her profile. However, critics charged that the forms were straightforward for any attorney to understand. Critics were also adamant that Harris willfully violated the spending cap and argued that, even if Harris mistakenly overspent the cap, that doing so was indefensible under the law.
Harris ran a “Notice to Voters” in newspapers stating that she never agreed to limit her campaign spending, but said her failure to file the form (to decline the campaign spending cap) on time on was “due to errors by her campaign.” Harris’ campaign lawyer also argued that the spending cap violated the First Amendment. Harris’ campaign was questioned on why she would agree to the spending limit if it was, in fact, unconstitutional. Harris’ campaign responded that political candidates face political pressure “to accept rules that hinder their constitutional rights.”
Harris was fined nearly $35,000 by the Commission and ordered to alert voters, in her mailers, that she had violated the spending limit. The mailers, subsequently produced by her campaign, were said to have displayed her spending violation with “the smallest font in America.”
Harris, who the San Francisco Examiner called “a relative unknown”, went on to spend nearly $625,000 throughout the campaign while Hallinan spent just over $285,000. It was more than four times more than any candidate had raised in the history of running for the office.
Baldwin Hills, 2014
Harris garnered negative press from the campaign spending violation, but was said to have run a “forceful” campaign, assisted with the political and personal backing of former boyfriend, mayor Willie Brown, and connections to the city’s high society. Harris secured “an impressive array” of endorsements, including from Senator Dianne Feinstein, Sheriff Michael Hennessey, writer and cartoonist Aaron McGruder (who Harris noted was a close friend), and comedians Eddie Griffin and Chris Rock.
Bill Fazio had been eliminated from the election after initial voting. Hallinan and Harris, who garnered 37% and 33% of the vote, respectively, would have a runoff.
In the runoff, Harris sought to differentiate her policy positions from those of Hallinan, as it was a “problem” that they ideologically agreed on key issues such as being against the use of the death penalty. Harris ran on making the sexual abuse of children her top issue. She charged that, though she worked for Hallinan for two years, she left his office because it was “dysfunctional,” technologically inept and was “a mess.” She attacked Hallinan for promoting people in his office without merit, for his “abysmal” conviction rate for serious crimes (at just under 65%) –– over 10 percent lower than his predecessor’s rate –– lowering office morale, and for his willingness to accept plea bargains in cases of domestic violence:
“It is not progressive to be soft on crime.” –– Kamala Harris, 2003
Hallinan refuted that Harris was misrepresenting his office. For example, he stated the decrease in conviction rate was not due to the performance of his office, but because of a diversion program that he created for criminals.
Harris was lauded for her campaigning skills, particularly for “listen[ing] carefully to the concerns of ordinary people.” She was rumored to have worked 16 hours per day on her campaign, but was charged by critics as being a “machine” candidate more concerned with conviction rates than the people who were actually convicted:
“It’s not the tradition in San Francisco to favor punishment over rehabilitation. We are not concerned with the conviction rate, we don’t want to come down hard on people accused of crimes, we don’t want to nail them to the cross.” –– Jeff Adachi, Public Defender, 2003
Harris also accrued negative publicity. Being upper middle class she was portrayed as being out of touch with her self-described “black base.” She reportedly told a group of affluent blacks at Yerba Buena Gardens, along with affluent whites in Pacific Heights, “The most victimized people do not vote, so you have to act on their behalf.” Also, while talking to three black men, outside of a Sunnydale housing project, who planned to protest the Muni transit system for not honoring its promise to hire young blacks to work on a new light-rail system, Harris suggested they “ask a police captain to conduct a protest training [so] you can protest safely.” The organizer of the protest, Harold Kyer, was reportedly embarrassed to have to explain to Harris that her suggestion was naive:
“Our community is not police-friendly, Ms. Harris. They will not come to a meeting if the police show up.”
Harris faced additional criticism. Her support of Proposition M, which would increase criminal penalties for panhandling without providing funds for housing or health services for the homeless, conflicted with her liberal platform. However, the stance aligned her with Mayoral candidate, Gavin Newsom, whose campaign was supporting the initiative. Harris was also criticized, near the end of the campaign, for holding a press conference in which she vocalized a case about a woman who was tortured by her boyfriend with a hot iron, in order to attack Hallinan’s record on domestic violence. Harris did not talk to, or consult with, the victim prior to citing the case. However, Hallinan did speak with the victim and her family. The victim subsequently praised Hallinan for “respect[ing] her desire not to have the case become a media spectacle.” Harris was accused of politicizing the victim.
Harris won with 56.33% of the vote and became the first woman to lead the District Attorney’s Office of San Francisco.
District Attorney of San Francisco
Harris press conference
In April 2004, San Francisco Police Department Officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed in the line of duty. Three days later, Harris announced she would not seek the death penalty, angering the San Francisco Police Officers Association. During Espinoza’s funeral at St. Mary’s Cathedral, U.S. Senator and former San Francisco mayor Dianne Feinstein rose to the pulpit and called on Harris, who was sitting in the front pew, to secure the death penalty, prompting a standing ovation from the 2,000 uniformed police officers in attendance. Harris still refused. Espinoza’s killer was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.
In 2004, as district attorney, Harris started the Back On Track initiative, a reentry program. Initiative participants (who are nonviolent, first-time drug offenders whose crimes were not weapon- or gang-related) plead guilty in exchange for a deferral of sentencing and regular appearances before a judge over a year-long period. Participants who succeed in obtaining a high-school-equivalency diploma, maintaining steady employment, taking parenting classes, and passing drug tests have their records cleared. Over eight years, the program produced fewer than 300 graduates, but achieved a very low recidivism rate. In 2009, a state law (the Back on Track Reentry Act, Assembly Bill 750) was enacted, encouraging other counties to start programs around a similar model. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law. The program met some controversy because it initially included illegal immigrants, including one, Alexander Izaguirre, who was later arrested for assault. She later said allowing persons not eligible to work in the United States was a mistake, and modified the program to bar anyone who could not legally be employed in the United States.
Harris was re-elected in 2007 when she ran unopposed. A 2008 New York Times article listing women who might have the potential to become president of the United States listed then-District Attorney Harris, suggesting she had a reputation as a “tough fighter.”
In 2009, Harris’s book Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutor’s Plan to Make Us Safer was published by Chronicle Books. In the book, she touted her Back On Track initiative and argued for what she referred to as “a smarter approach when it comes to combating nonviolent crime” emphasizing crime prevention, truancy prevention, and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in children. The book discusses a series of “myths” surrounding the criminal justice system and presents proposals to reduce and prevent crime. Recognized by The Los Angeles Daily Journal as one of the top 100 lawyers in California, she served on the board of the California District Attorneys Association and was vice president of the National District Attorneys Association.
In 2013, the San Francisco Weekly reported that the San Francisco Police Department and Harris’s office shielded Abraham H. Guerra Sr., a high-ranking member of the Norteño gang, from returning to prison due to parole violations because Guerra was an informant who provided authorities with information.
Violent crimes and conviction rate
Attorney General, 2010
While Harris was the San Francisco District Attorney, the overall felony conviction rate rose from 52% in 2003 to 67% in 2006, the highest in a decade; there was an 85% conviction rate for homicides, and convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006. In addition to trial convictions, she also closed many cases via plea bargains.
When Harris took office, she cleared part of the murder caseload from the previous administration. She stated that the records from that administration were less than ideal, and worked to get convictions on what she could. Out of the 73 homicide cases backlogged, over 40% of them took deals for lesser charges, such as manslaughter, pleaded to other crimes, such as assault or burglary while the murder charges were dismissed.
In 2004, Harris pushed for higher bail for criminal defendants involved in gun-related crimes. She argued that low bail encouraged outsiders to commit crimes in San Francisco.
Officers within the SFPD credited Harris with tightening loopholes in bail and drug programs that defendants had used in the past. However, they also accused her of being too deliberate in her prosecution of murder suspects.
In 2009, Harris’ prosecutors won a lower percentage of their felony jury trials than their counterparts at district attorneys’ offices covering the 10 largest cities in California. Her at-trial felony conviction rate that year was 76 percent, down 12 percent from the previous year, was more than 5 percent under the statewide average.
In 2012, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo ruled that Harris’s office violated defendants’ rights by hiding damaging information about a San Francisco Police Department crime lab technician, that Harris’ office had ignored a constitutional obligation to turn over to defense attorneys the criminal histories of police testifying at trial, and that Harris’ office was indifferent to demands that it account for its failings.
Child Abuse in Catholic Church
U.S. Dept. of Justice, 2013
In the 1970s, Joey Piscitelli was repeatedly raped by the principal of his Catholic High School, Father Stephen Whelan. In 2004, he was pursuing a civil case against the church that oversaw his high school and seeking help to strengthen his case.
Piscitelli had previously gone to the District Attorney’s office when Terrance Hallinan was the D.A. and received the assistance he requested. Hallinan’s office provided Piscitelli with access to files it had obtained in 2002 after Hallinan directed investigators to try to build a case against the archdiocese and forced the archdiocese to turn over 75 years of its own records. The files implicated high-level church officials and detailed how they internally handled pedophile priests. The files had been successfully used to indict a priest, Father Austin Peter Keegan.
Piscitelli intended to use the files in a similar manner, seeking any information that could be helpful in his civil suit against the church that oversaw his high school. At the time, a civil trial was the only avenue for restitution available to victims following a Supreme Court decision overturning a California law that retroactively eliminated the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of child molestation cases. Many sexual abusers who were facing criminal charges prior to the ruling were set free, including Keegan. However, in 2003, California passed a state law that allowed victims to file civil lawsuits against their alleged abusers if they could prove that the employers of the abusers knew of the misconduct and did nothing to stop it. Piscitelli’s civil suit was already underway when he contacted Harris, shortly after she defeated Hallinan.
Piscitelli says Harris’s office did not respond to his letters or calls, and would not allow him to access the files. In response, Piscitelli and his family and friends began mounting posters across the city to force Harris to respond. He sought help from the media, which requested access to the files under California’s Public Records Act, but Harris’s deputy, Paul Henderson, denied the request, stating that Harris’s investigative files “were not subject to California’s government transparency laws.” In 2005, when San Francisco Weekly writer Ron Russell attempted the request again, a Harris spokesperson told him:
“If we did it [granted access to files] for you, we would have to do it for everybody. Where do you stop, and where do you start?”
Repeated attempts by reporters to access the files were similarly denied over the years, with Harris’s spokesperson, Erica Derryck, not responding to calls or emails from reporters. Eventually, in 2010, Harris’s office released a statement:
“District Attorney Harris focuses her efforts on putting child molesters in prison. We’re not interested in selling out our victims to look good in the paper. When this case was brought under Terence Hallinan, prosecutors took the utmost care to protect the identity and dignity of the victims. That was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now.”
Critics charged that the statement was “dangerous,” as not exposing predators could endanger more children. They argued that releasing such records was not only “routine,” but also cruel, in that it further burdened victims with having to resort to costly litigation if they wanted to obtain records that documented the crimes that happened against them. Critics also charged that the statement implied that the district attorney’s office was incapable of simply redacting victims’ names from the released material. They speculated that Harris, considering her political future, gave deference to the Catholic Church, noted to be a major political influence in San Francisco.
Supporters of Harris maintain she did the right thing in not releasing the documents:
“I don’t think a district attorney should float that out there if a person can’t defend themselves. It’s a very serious charge, a sex crime.” –– Elliot Beckelman, Former San Francisco Assistant District Attorney
In 2006, Piscitelli won his civil case, doing so without the help of Harris’s office. During her seven years as District Attorney, Harris did not bring charges or proactively assist in civil cases against any sexual abusers in the church. Critics charge that her failure to do so conflicts with her campaign promise to make the sexual abuse of children her top issue.
Hate crimes and civil rights
Pride Parade, 2013
As San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created a special Hate Crimes Unit, focusing on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools. She convened a national conference to confront the “gay-transgender panic defense”, which has been used to justify violent hate crimes. She supports same-sex marriage in California and opposed both Proposition 22 and Proposition 8.
In 2004, The National Urban League honored Harris as a “Woman of Power”. In 2005, she received the Thurgood Marshall Award from the National Black Prosecutors Association. In her campaign for California Attorney General, she received the endorsements of many groups including EMILY’s List, California Legislative Black Caucus, Asian American Action Fund, Black Women Organized for Political Action, the National Women’s Political Caucus, Mexican American Bar Association, and South Asians for Opportunity.
Attorney General of California
Main article: 2010 California Attorney General election
Harris sworn in, 2011
On November 12, 2008, Harris announced her candidacy for California Attorney General. Both of California’s United States Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, endorsed her during the Democratic Party primary. In the June 8, 2010, primary, she was nominated with 33.6% of the vote, defeating Alberto Torrico (who received 15.6% of the vote) and Chris Kelly (who received 15.5%).
In her campaign for California Attorney General, Harris received the endorsements of United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta, United Educators of San Francisco, and San Francisco Firefighters Local 798. She also received the endorsement of Antonio Villaraigosa, Mayor of Los Angeles. In the general election, she faced Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley. On election night, November 2, 2010, Cooley prematurely declared victory, but many ballots remained uncounted. On November 24, as the count advanced, Harris was leading by more than 55,000 votes, and Cooley conceded. On January 3, 2011, she became the first female, Jamaican-American, and Indian-American attorney general in California.
Main article: 2014 California Attorney General election
Harris announced her intention to run for re-election in February 2014 and filed paperwork to run on February 12. According to the office of California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Harris had raised the money for her campaign during the previous year in 2013. The Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Daily News, and Los Angeles Times endorsed her for reelection.
On November 4, 2014, Harris was re-elected against Republican Ronald Gold.
Significant cases and policies
In 2012, Harris participated in the National Mortgage Settlement against five banks, securing $12 billion of debt reduction for the state’s homeowners and $26 billion overall.
She introduced the California Homeowner’s Bill of Rights in the California State Legislature, a set of laws which took effect on January 1, 2013, banning the practices of “dual-tracking” (processing a modification and foreclosure at the same time) and robo-signing, and provided homeowners with a single point of contact at their lending institution. It also gave the California Attorney General more power to investigate and prosecute financial fraud and to convene special grand juries to prosecute multi-county crimes instead of prosecuting a single crime county by county.
Prison conditions and sentencing reform
After the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Plata (2011) declared California’s prisons so overcrowded they inflicted cruel and unusual punishment, Harris fought federal court supervision, explaining “I have a client, and I don’t get to choose my client.” After California failed to fully implement the court’s order to reduce crowding, and was ordered to implement new parole programs, the State of California appealed the decision, and in court filings the AG’s office argued that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important source of labor, such as for fighting wildfires. Prisoners in California earn between 8 and 37 cents per hour in maintenance and kitchen jobs; prisoner firefighters receive higher pay, at $1 per hour. She later backed away from her office’s argument in the prison-litigation case, telling the website ThinkProgress: “The way that argument played out in court does not reflect my priorities… The idea that we incarcerate people to have indentured servants is one of the worst possible perceptions. I feel very strongly about that. It evokes images of chain gangs.”
In 2017, she introduced legislation to “reform or replace the practice of money bail.”
Harris refused to take any position on criminal sentencing-reform initiatives Proposition 36 (2012) and Proposition 47 (2014), arguing it would be improper because her office prepares the ballot booklets. Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp considered her explanation “baloney.”
Prosecuting financial crimes
Announces suit against predatory For-Profit Colleges
Harris has prosecuted many financial crimes, such as predatory lending. In 2011, while serving as Attorney General of California, she created the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force which had a mandate to eliminate mortgage foreclosure fraud. The task force has been criticized for not filing as many foreclosure cases as in states with smaller populations.
In 2013, Harris did not prosecute Steve Mnuchin’s bank OneWest despite evidence “suggestive of widespread misconduct” according to a leaked memo from the Department of Justice. In 2017, she said that her office’s decision not to prosecute Mnuchin was based on “following the facts and the evidence…like any other case”. In 2016, Mnuchin donated $2,000 to her campaign, making her the only 2016 Senate Democratic candidate to get cash from Mnuchin, but as senator, she voted against the confirmation of Mnuchin as Secretary of the Treasury.
Mobile-app user privacy
Michelle-Lael Norsworthy case
In February 2014, Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a transgender woman incarcerated at California’s Mule Creek State Prison, filed a federal lawsuit based on the state’s failure to provide her with what she argued was medically necessary sex reassignment surgery (SRS). In April 2015, a federal judge ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to provide Norsworthy with SRS, finding that prison officials had been “deliberately indifferent to her serious medical need.” Harris, representing CDCR, challenged the order in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. She argued that “Norsworthy has been receiving hormone therapy for her gender dysphoria since 2000, and continues to receive hormone therapy and other forms of treatment” and that “there is no evidence that Norsworthy is in serious, immediate physical or emotional danger.”
In August 2015, while the state’s appeal was pending, Norsworthy was released on parole, obviating the state’s duty to provide her with inmate medical care and rendering the case moot. Harris maintained that the parole review process was independent of Norsworthy’s legal case against CDCR, although the Ninth Circuit, in its opinion, said it was possible that Norsworthy’s release on parole, ahead of her scheduled SRS, may have been influenced by CDCR officials.
Bureau of Children’s Justice
John Muir Elementary, 2016
On February 12, 2015, Harris announced that she would start a new agency called the Bureau of Children’s Justice. The bureau would work on issues such as foster care, the juvenile justice system, school truancy, and childhood trauma. She appointed special assistant attorney general Jill Habig to head the agency.
County prosecutors’ misconduct
In 2015, Harris defended convictions obtained by county prosecutors who had inserted a false confession into an interrogation transcript, committed perjury, and withheld evidence. Federal appeals court Judge Alex Kozinski threw out the convictions, telling lawyers, “Talk to the attorney general and make sure she understands the gravity of the situation.”
In March 2015, a California superior courts judge ordered Harris to take over a criminal case after Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas was revealed to have illegally employed jailhouse informants and concealed evidence. She refused, appealing the order and defending Rackauckas.
Harris appealed the dismissal of an indictment when it was discovered a Kern County prosecutor perjured in submitting a falsified confession as court evidence. In the case, she argued that only abject physical brutality would warrant a finding of prosecutorial misconduct and the dismissal of an indictment, and that perjury alone was not enough.
Oil and gas companies
Oil spill clean-up tour, 2015
After an oil spill from a pipeline caused damage to the California coastline in May 2015, Harris toured the coastline and directed her office’s resources and attorneys to investigate possible criminal violations. The investigations led to dozens of indictments. In June 2016, she issued subpoenas to Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, Phillips 66, Valero Energy, and Tesoro relating to an investigation into possible price-fixing.
Mitrice Richardson case
Main article: Death of Mitrice Richardson
Mitrice Richardson was a 24-year-old African American woman who was released from the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department in the middle of the night without any means of fending for herself. Her body was later found in an isolated canyon, leaving the family with many unanswered questions. In 2016, the Attorney General opened a criminal investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s handling of the Mitrice Richardson case. The AG’s Office had originally declined the request of the Richardson family to investigate the case, but reversed course after the family and supporters submitted almost 500 pages of evidence to Harris’s office in the hope of prompting an investigation. In December 2016, the California Attorney General’s Office closed the investigation, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal prosecution of anyone involved in the handling of the Richardson case.
In October 2016, Harris announced the arrest of Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. The arrest warrant alleged that 99% of Backpage’s revenue was directly attributable to prostitution-related ads, many of which involved victims of sex trafficking, including children under the age of 18.
The pimping charge against Ferrer was dismissed by the California courts in 2016 on the grounds of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, but in 2018 Ferrer ultimately pleaded guilty in California to money laundering and agreed to give evidence against the former co-owners of Backpage, Mike Lacey and Jim Larkin. Ferrer simultaneously pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution in Texas state court and Arizona federal court.
In January 2017, following government pressure, Backpage announced that it was removing its adult section from all of its sites in the United States. Harris welcomed the move, saying “I look forward to them shutting down completely.” The investigations continued after she became a senator and in April 2018, Backpage and affiliated sites were seized by federal law enforcement around the same time as Ferrer’s guilty plea.
Supreme Court and U.S. Attorney General speculation
During Obama’s presidency, Harris was mentioned as a possible nominee for the United States Supreme Court or U.S. Attorney General, but she was not nominated to either office.
Main article: 2016 United States Senate election in California
Senate campaign logo, 2016
After 24 years as California’s junior senator, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced her intention to retire from the United States Senate at the end of her term in 2016. Harris was the first candidate to declare her intention to run for Boxer’s senate seat. Media outlets reported that she would run for senate on the same day that Gavin Newsom, California’s Lieutenant Governor and a close political ally of Harris, announced he would not seek to succeed Boxer. Harris officially announced the launch of her campaign on January 13, 2015.
Harris hosted fundraisers in California and Washington, D.C., raising $2.5 million for her campaign.
In December 2015, the National Journal reported that Harris’ campaign spending rate contributed to her cash on hand being closer to that of another candidate, Loretta Sanchez, who had just $1.6 million.
In 2016, Harris was the only Democratic candidate for the Senate to receive a campaign contribution from Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin donated $2,000 to Harris’ campaign. Harris was criticized for accepting the donation because Mnuchin profited from the subprime mortgage crisis and when Harris was the Attorney General of California, she declined, without explanation, to prosecute OneWest Bank –– which Mnuchin founded and ran –– over foreclosures the bank executed while incurring over 1,000 violations to California foreclosure laws (and despite the recommendations of investigators in her own office to file a civil enforcement action against the bank), and because Harris was afforded a vote in Mnuchin’s 2017 confirmation to become United States Secretary of the Treasury. The Intercept said of Harris’ fundraising:
“Harris’s prodigious fundraising also raises questions about how attentive she is to the needs of campaign contributors.”
Harris was a frontrunner from the beginning of her campaign.
In January 2015, weeks after she announced her campaign, a survey by Public Policy Polling showed her leading in a hypothetical match-up against Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, 41% to 16%, respectively. Four months later, a Field Poll showed that though nearly 60% of likely voters did not have a favored candidate, at nearly 20%, she was most preferred candidate of the field. Five months later, she led another Field Poll, at 30%, besting fellow Democratic candidate, Loretta Sanchez, by nearly 15 percentage points. Harris increased her support despite The Sacramento Bee noting she had not been active in campaigning since appearing at the California Democratic Party’s convention.
In February 2016, the California Democratic Party voted at its convention to endorse Harris, who received nearly 80% of the vote, with only 60% needed to secure the endorsement. Three months later, Governor Jerry Brown endorsed her.
On July 19, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Harris.
All candidates participated in a primary election in June 2016, after which the top two candidates from any party would advance to the general election.
Harris entered the debates against the other major candidates as the front-runner. On the June 7 primary, she came in first place with 40% of the votes, winning in over 80% of California’s 58 counties –– including seven counties where she won more than 50% of the vote.
Following the primary, Harris faced Congresswoman, and fellow Democrat, Loretta Sanchez, in the general election. It was the first time a Republican did not appear in a general election for the Senate since California began directly electing senators in 1914.
In the November 2016 election, Harris defeated Sanchez, capturing over 60% of the vote, carrying all but four counties. Following her victory, she promised to protect immigrants from the policies of President-elect Donald Trump.
Following her election to the United States Senate, Harris announced her intention to remain California’s Attorney General through the end of 2016 and resign shortly before being sworn in as Senator on January 3, 2017. Governor Jerry Brown announced his intention to nominate Congressman Xavier Becerra as her successor.
File:Kamala Harris speaks about government shutdown (January 16, 2019).webm
Speaking about government shutdown, January 2019
On January 28, after Trump signed Executive Order 13769, barring citizens from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for 90 days, she condemned the order and was one of many to describe it as a “Muslim ban”. When John F. Kelly was White House Chief of Staff, she called him at home to gather information and push back against the contentious executive order.
In early February, Harris spoke in opposition to Trump’s cabinet picks Betsy DeVos, for Secretary of Education, and Jeff Sessions, for United States Attorney General. Later that month, in her first speech on the senate floor, she spent 12 minutes critiquing Trump’s immigration policies. In early March, she called on Attorney General Sessions to resign, after it was reported that Sessions spoke twice with Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak. On March 14, she argued that repealing the Affordable Care Act would send the message of health care’s being a “privilege” rather than a “civil right”.
Welcoming new female CBC members, 2019
On June 7, 2017, Harris garnered media attention for her questioning of Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, over the role he played in the May 2017 firing of James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The prosecutorial nature of her questioning caused Senator John McCain, an ex officio member of the Intelligence Committee, and Senator Richard Burr, the committee chairman, to interrupt her and request that she be more respectful of the witness; other Democrats on the committee pointed out that they had asked similarly tough questions, but had not been interrupted. On June 13, she questioned Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, on the same topic; She was again interrupted by McCain and Burr. Sessions stated that her mode of questioning “makes me nervous”; other Democratic members of the committee again pointed out that she was the only senator whose questioning was interrupted with an admonishment from the chairman. Burr’s singling out of Harris sparked suggestion in the news media that his behavior was sexist, with commentators arguing that Burr would not treat a male Senate colleague in a similar manner. In addition, when CNN pundit Jason Miller described her as “hysterical”, Kirsten Powers, who was taking part in the same on-air segment, told Miller that his use of the term to describe Harris was sexist, and that he would not describe male senators in the same manner.
In July 2017, Harris voted in favor of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act that grouped together sanctions against Iran, Russia and North Korea.
CA Wildfire Damage, 2017
In a January 2018 hearing, Harris questioned Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for favoring Norwegian immigrants over others and claiming to be unaware that Norway is a predominantly white country.
In an April 2018 hearing, Harris questioned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for Facebook’s misuse of users’ data.
In response to the administration’s family separation policy, Harris visited one of the detention facilities near the border in June 2018.
Harris visiting American troops in Iraq, April 2017
In the September and October 2018 Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Harris participated in questioning the FBI Director’s limited scope of the investigation on Kavanaugh.
Harris was one of the targets of the October 2018 United States mail bombing attempts.
In February 2019, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” in reference to American politicians’ support for Israel and invoked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A number of Democratic leaders – including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – condemned the tweet, which was interpreted as implying that money was fueling American politicians’ support of Israel. Harris defended Ilhan Omar, saying that “We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.”
Committee on the Budget
Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Subcommittee on Federal Spending Oversight and Emergency Management
Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management
Select Committee on Intelligence
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on the Constitution
Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts
Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law
Source: Los Angeles Times
Congressional Black Caucus
Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus
Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues
2020 presidential campaign
Main article: Kamala Harris 2020 presidential campaign
Harris announcing her presidential candidacy, January 27, 2019
Harris had been considered a top contender and potential frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination for President. In June 2018, she was quoted as “not ruling it out”. As of July 2018, she was spending more on Facebook advertising than any other senator. In July 2018, it was announced that she would publish a memoir, another sign of a possible run. She also stumped for candidates in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
On January 21, 2019, Harris officially announced her candidacy for President of the United States in the 2020 United States presidential election. In the first 24 hours after her candidacy announcement, she tied a record set by Bernie Sanders in 2016 for the most donations raised in the day following announcement. However, Sanders later broke this record after announcing his own 2020 presidential campaign. Over 20,000 people attended her formal campaign launch event in her hometown of Oakland, California on January 27, according to a police estimate.
During the first Democratic presidential debate in June 2019, Harris scolded former vice president Joe Biden for having opposed mandatory school bussing. Her widely quoted comment was, “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools and she was bused to school every day. That little girl was me.” Harris’s support rose by between 6 and 9 points in polls following that debate. In the second debate in August, Harris was confronted by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard over her record as Attorney General, notably her past positions on marijuana, cash bail, and parole reform. Harris fell in the polls following that debate. Over the next few months her poll numbers fell to the low single digits. On December 3, 2019, Harris dropped out of the 2020 presidential race.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund, 2017
In 2013, when she was California Attorney General, Harris allowed the Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian to cease the availability of elective abortions, after it entered a partnership with Catholic chain, St. Joseph Health System. The ban was made due to St. Joseph’s “sensitivity” about abortion. As the Attorney General, Harris had legal authority to decide on any such change, as a condition of her approving a major transaction involving any non-profit medical institution in the state. The ban would not be able to go into affect without her knowledge or approval. Harris did set conditions on the ban, requiring the hospital to “take steps to ensure that alternative providers are available and accessible to all women, especially low-income women for direct abortions” in the hospital’s serviceable area.
Critics voiced concern that by imposing Catholic doctrine on its operations, St. Joseph was reducing the availability of reproductive services while receiving millions of dollars from taxpayers through Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements and a legal status that allowed it to be tax-exempt while taking tax deductions.
In July 2015, an organization called “The Center for Medical Progress” (dba “Biomax”), a registered California non-profit corporation posted five videos, shot in Texas, as evidence of proof that Planned Parenthood was “illegally trafficking aborted fetal parts.” The videos were found to be manipulated –– propaganda produced by anti-abortion activists who used fake California identification to establish a ghost California non-profit corporation. Within two months of the videos’ posting, a Texas grand jury indicted the two activists responsible for producing them. However, as of March 2016, Harris had yet to make any determination on the matter:
“In July, our politically ambitious attorney general, Kamala Harris, vowed to ‘carefully review’ the ‘Center for Medical Progress…what is [she] waiting for?’
While a spokesperson for Harris said that “the office does not comment on investigations, or even confirm whether an investigation exists,” abortion rights advocates began to speculate that Harris’ senatorial campaign to replace Barbara Boxer might have contributed to Harris’ “lack of urgency” on the case.
However, in September 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed “Assembly Bill 1671” into law, which was reportedly drafted by Harris, with input from Planned Parenthood –– which sponsored the bill –– making it a criminal offense to intentionally distribute, or to help with the dissemination of, unlawfully obtained confidential communications. Libertarians, filmmakers and news organizations vehemently opposed the bill which was signed into law after late amendments were added to it.
Since her election to the Senate, Harris has maintained a 100% rating by the abortion rights advocacy group, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and a 0% rating by the anti-abortion group, National Right to Life Committee. She was also endorsed by Emily’s List in 2015 during her Senatorial Campaign.
In February 2019, Harris and Republican Susan Collins introduced the Help Extract Animals from Red Tape Act (HEART Act), a bill meant to assist animals previously rescued by the federal government from being used in animal fights. Harris remarked that she was “proud to reintroduce this bill to streamline the process of getting these animals the care they need and ensuring that they are properly cared for in the future.”
Des Moines, Iowa 2019
Harris’s 2020 campaign has disavowed most corporate donations, and has committed to rejecting money from corporate political action committees for her presidential campaign, in favor of relying on small and large individual donors.
“Our campaign is not taking a dime from corporate PACs or lobbyists –– and that was a very deliberate choice.”
However, in April 2019, after the FEC released donation information, Harris was found to have accepted more donations from registered lobbyists among all the Democratic Presidential Nominees who vowed to not do so, receiving such donations from federal, state, municipal and corporate lobbyists who represent entities such as Verizon, Airbnb, AT&T, Novartis, Visa, Pfizer, Cigna, IBM, Google, along with lobbyists that represent industries such as charter schools, construction, and real estate.
Harris, along with candidates Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Marianne Williamson, has explicitly discouraged single-candidate super PACs from operating on her behalf, though she cannot prevent them from doing so.
In the first quarter of 2019, nearly 40% of Harris’s donations came from small donors (donations of less than $200), while over 60% of her donations came from large donors (donations of $200 or more).
Harris did not initially support the legalization of recreational marijuana, but later moved to support legalization. In 2010, while campaigning for Attorney General of California, she opposed Proposition 19, the first failed attempt to legalize recreational marijuana in California, on the grounds that selling drugs harms communities. In 2015, she called for an end on the federal prohibition of medical marijuana.
In April 2018, following reports that the Justice Department was blocking the Drug Enforcement Administration from taking action on over two dozen requests to grow marijuana for use in research, Harris and Republican Orrin Hatch sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on the necessity of marijuana research “for evidence-based decision making” and “to resolve critical questions of public health and safety, such as learning the impacts of marijuana on developing brains and formulating methods to test marijuana impairment in drivers.”
In May 2018, Harris announced she would co-sponsor the Marijuana Justice Act, which Senator Cory Booker introduced in August 2017. The legislation would eliminate marijuana’s status as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act. The move would also require federal courts to automatically expunge earlier federal marijuana convictions related to use or possession and would establish a grant program aimed at incentivizing the expungement and sealing of state convictions for marijuana possession.
In July 2019, Harris and Representative Jerry Nadler introduced the MORE Act of 2019, legislation that would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level in addition to expunging low-level marijuana possession convictions and authorizing grants to members of communities of color as part of an effort to reverse decades of damage cannabis criminalization had inflicted to those respective communities. In a statement, Harris cited the need to regulate marijuana and ensuring “everyone — especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”
Harris with Senator Dianne Feinstein and Governor Jerry Brown, 2017
Harris is opposed to the death penalty, but has said that she would review each case individually. Her position was questioned in April 2004, when SFPD Officer Isaac Espinoza was murdered in the Bayview district. She announced that she would not seek the death penalty for the man accused of his killing. The decision evoked protests from the San Francisco Police Officers Association, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and others. Those who supported her decision not to seek the death penalty included San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sophie Maxwell, in whose district the murder occurred. The jury found the convicted killer, David Hill, guilty of second-degree murder, although the prosecutor, Harry Dorfman, had sought a first-degree murder conviction. The defense had argued that Hill thought Espinoza was a member of a rival gang, and that the murder was not premeditated. Hill was given the maximum sentence for the conviction, life without the possibility of parole.
Harris’s position against the death penalty was tested again in the case of Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant and alleged MS-13 gang member who was accused of murdering Tony Bologna and his sons Michael and Matthew. On September 10, 2009, she announced she would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole rather than the death penalty in the Ramos case.
Harris has expressed the belief that life without possibility of parole is a better, and more cost-effective, punishment. According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty costs $137 million per year. If the system were changed to life without possibility of parole, the annual costs would be approximately $12 million per year. She noted that the resulting surplus could put 1,000 more police officers into service in San Francisco alone.
When in 2014, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney declared capital punishment in California unconstitutional, Harris appealed the case.
On July 31, 2019, following Attorney General William Barr announcing that the United States federal government would resume the use of the death penalty for the first time in over twenty years, Harris was a cosponsor of a bill banning the death penalty.
In August 2018, Harris was one of eight senators to sign a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency charging the agency with not assisting displaced homeowners in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria under the Individuals and Households program (IHP) at “alarming rates.”
Harris and Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for female education and Nobel Prize laureate.
Harris has argued for treating “habitual and chronic truancy” among children in elementary school as a crime committed by the parents of truant children. She argues that there is a direct connection between habitual truancy in elementary school and crime later in life. She has received the endorsement of the California Federation of Teachers.
Harris opposed California’s ban on affirmative action. She asked the Supreme Court to “reaffirm its decision that public colleges and universities may consider race as one factor in admissions decisions.” Harris filed legal papers in the Supreme Court case supporting race as an admissions factor at the University of Texas. She also filed papers supporting affirmative action in a different Supreme Court case involving the University of Michigan.
Harris supports busing for desegregation of public schools, saying that “the schools of America are as segregated, if not more segregated, today than when I was in elementary school.” Harris views busing as an option to be considered by school districts, rather than the responsibility of the federal government.
On December 21, 2017, Harris was one of six senators to introduce the “Secure Elections Act”, legislation authorizing block grants for states that would update outdated voting technology. The act would also create a program for an independent panel of experts to develop cybersecurity guidelines for election systems that states could adopt if they choose, along with offering states resources to implement the recommendations.
In May 2019, Harris was a cosponsor of the Protecting American Votes and Elections (PAVE) Act, legislation granting the United States Department of Homeland Security the authority “to set minimum cybersecurity standards for U.S. voting machines, authorize a one-time $500 million grant program for states to buy ballot-scanning machines to count paper ballots and require states to conduct risk-limiting audits of all federal elections in order to detect any cyber hacks.”
Sorek Desalination Plant in Israel, 2017
During her time as San Francisco District Attorney, Harris created the Environmental Justice Unit in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and prosecuted several industries and individuals for pollution, most notably U-Haul, Alameda Publishing Corporation, and the Cosco Busan oil spill. She also advocated for strong enforcement of environmental protection laws.
In October 2017, Harris was one of nineteen senators to sign a letter to Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt questioning Pruitt’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan, asserting that the repeal’s proposal used “mathematical sleights of hand to over-state the costs of industry compliance with the 2015 Rule and understate the benefits that will be lost if the 2017 repeal is finalized” and science denying and math fabricating would fail to “satisfy the requirements of the law, nor will it slow the increase in frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, the inexorable rise in sea levels, or the other dire effects of global warming that our planet is already experiencing.”
In September 2018, Harris was one of eight senators to sponsor the Climate Risk Disclosure Act, a bill described by cosponsor Elizabeth Warren as using “market forces to speed up the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy – reducing the odds of an environmental and financial disaster without spending a dime of taxpayer money.” She stated that her goal would be achieving 100% of U.S. electricity from renewable energy sources, and that she supports a Green New Deal, an idea made popular by first term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, because “climate change is an existential threat to all of us.”
In November 2018, Harris was one of 25 Democratic senators to cosponsor a resolution specifying key findings of the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change report and National Climate Assessment. The resolution affirmed the senators’ acceptance of the findings and their support for bold action toward addressing climate change.
On July 29, 2019, Harris and Ocasio-Cortez introduced the Climate Equity Act, a bill that would lay out steps for Congress and the White House on how to go about guaranteeing policies that composed “a future Green New Deal protect the health and economic wellbeing of all Americans for generations to come.” Referring to climate change as “an existential threat”, Harris noted cutting emissions and ending American reliance on fossil fuels were not enough and cited the need “that communities already contending with unsafe drinking water, toxic air, and lack of economic opportunity are not left behind.”
On September 4, 2019, Harris unveiled a $10 trillion climate change plan intended to move the United States to a 100 percent renewable energy-based power grid by 2030 in addition to transitioning all vehicles in America to the same energy sources by 2035. She pledged to rejoin the Paris Agreement and end U.S. support for international oil and natural gas extraction projects, furthering that as president she would “hold polluters accountable for the damage they inflict upon our environment and set us on a path to a 100 percent clean economy that creates millions of good-paying jobs.”
In April 2017, responding to the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, Harris charged Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with attacking Syrian children, and stated “the clear fact that president Assad is not only a ruthless dictator brutalizing his own people – he is a war criminal the international community cannot ignore.” She called on President Trump to work with Congress on his administration’s “lack of clear objectives in Syria and articulate a detailed strategy and path forward in partnership with our allies.”
Harris signs guestbook at Yad Vashem in Israel as her husband looks on
Harris speaks with Palestinian students at the Al-Quds University in the State of Palestine, West Bank, 2017
In 2017, Harris gave a public address to AIPAC attendees. She said: “I believe Israel should never be a partisan issue, and as long as I’m a United States senator, I will do everything in my power to ensure broad and bipartisan support for Israel’s security and right to self-defense.” She has opposed the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. She was a co-sponsor of a Senate resolution expressing objection to the UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemned Israeli settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories as a violation of international law. At the AIPAC conference, she said that “the first resolution I co-sponsored as a United States senator was to combat anti-Israel bias at the United Nations”. She also supported a Senate resolution celebrating the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. In late 2017, she traveled to Israel, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In October 2017, Harris condemned the genocide of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and called for a stronger response to the crisis.
In February 2018, Harris was one of 18 Democratic senators to sign a letter to Trump stating that he lacked the authority to launch a preemptive strike against North Korea without authorization from Congress. The letter stated: “Without congressional authority, a preventative or preemptive U.S. military strike would lack either a constitutional basis or legal authority.”
In 2018, after Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Harris released a statement saying the decision “jeopardizes our national security and isolates us from our closest allies” while calling the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “the best existing tool we have to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and avoid a disastrous military conflict in the Middle East.” In late 2018, she voted to withdraw U.S. military aid for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. She also backed a resolution blaming Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.
Harris supported the Iran nuclear deal to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction. In December 2018, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the Trump administration was suspending its obligations in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 60 days in the event that Russia continued to violate the treaty, she was one of 26 senators to sign a letter expressing concern over the administration “now abandoning generations of bipartisan U.S. leadership around the paired goals of reducing the global role and number of nuclear weapons and ensuring strategic stability with America’s nuclear-armed adversaries” and calling on Trump to continue arms negotiations.
Harris voted in favor of a $675 billion defense budget bill for 2019. She said that North Korea is “one of the most serious security threats”. In February 2019, after former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe claimed that President Trump believed the claims of President of Russia Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies’ reports on the subject of North Korea’s missile capabilities, she told reporters, “The idea that the president of the U.S. would take the word of the head of Russia over the intel community is the height of irresponsibility and shameful.” In an August 2019 interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, when asked if she as president would sign an agreement with North Korea granting partial sanctions relief in exchange for some denuclearization, Harris replied that President Trump had given “Kim one PR victory after the next, all without securing any real concessions” and that she would “consider targeted sanctions relief to improve the lives of the North Korean people if the regime were to take serious, verifiable steps to roll back its nuclear program.”
Harris criticized Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, which critics say gave Turkey the green light to launch the military offensive against Syrian Kurds.
Announcing seizure of 1,200 guns across California, 2011
Harris earned an “F” rating from the National Rifle Association for her consistent efforts supporting gun control. While serving as district attorney in San Francisco Harris, along with other district attorneys, filed an amicus brief in District of Columbia v. Heller arguing that the Washington, D.C. gun law at issue did not violate the Second Amendment. In her second term as district attorney, she said that getting guns off the streets was a priority.
During her run for Senate, Harris was endorsed by former U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords, who had been shot in Tucson in 2011. She was also endorsed by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
In response to the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, Harris supported the call for more gun control. Saying that she believed that thoughts and prayers are inadequate answers to the shooting, she stated that “…we must also commit ourselves to action. Another moment of silence won’t suffice.”
Speaking to Wolf Blitzer in August 2019, Harris stated that congressional action on gun control rested in the hands of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and that she “would hope and pray that he understands that he actually has the power to do the right thing here and that he will do the right thing.”
On August 14, 2019, Harris unveiled a plan that would address domestic terrorism while prioritizing increasing the difficulty for suspected individuals to either obtain or keep firearms through the formation of domestic terrorism prevention orders meant to empower law enforcement officers and family members with the ability to petition federal court for a temporary restriction on a person’s access to firearms in the event that they “exhibit clear evidence of dangerousness.” Harris stated that in the US “loaded guns should not be a few clicks away for any domestic terrorist with a laptop or smartphone” and cited the “need to take action to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and stop violent, hate-fueled attacks before they happen.”
Harris owns a gun for “personal safety”, as she was a career prosecutor.
On August 30, 2017, Harris announced at a town hall in Oakland that she would co-sponsor fellow Senator Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill, supporting single-payer healthcare.
In April 2018, Harris was one of ten senators to sponsor the Choose Medicare Act, an expanded public option for health insurance that also increased ObamaCare subsidies and rendered individuals with higher income levels eligible for its assistance.
In December 2018, Harris was one of 42 senators to sign a letter to Trump administration officials Alex Azar, Seema Verma, and Steve Mnuchin arguing that the administration was improperly using Section 1332 of the Affordable Care Act to authorize states to “increase health care costs for millions of consumers while weakening protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions.” The senators requested the administration withdraw the policy and “re-engage with stakeholders, states, and Congress.”
On July 29, 2019, Harris unveiled a health plan that would expand coverage while preserving a role for private insurance companies, the plan calling for transitioning to a Medicare for All system over a period of ten years that would be concurrent with infants and the uninsured automatically being placed into the system while other individuals would have the option to buy into the health care plan backed by the government. The plan has been met with some criticism from both Democrats and Republicans.
Harris speaking in support of DACA in September 2017
Meeting with DREAMers in December 2017
Harris has expressed support for San Francisco’s sanctuary city policy of not inquiring about immigration status in the process of a criminal investigation. She argued that it is important that immigrants be able to talk with law enforcement without fear.
On October 25, 2017, Harris stated she would not support a spending bill until Congress addressed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in a way that clarified “what we are going to do to protect and take care of our DACA young people in this country.” She did not support a February 2018 proposal by some Democrats to provide President Trump with $25 billion in funding for a border wall in exchange for giving DREAMers a pathway to citizenship.
In a January 2018 interview, when asked by Hiram Soto about her ideal version of a bipartisan deal on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Harris stated the need to focus on comprehensive immigration reform and “pass a clean DREAM Act.”
In January 2018, Harris and three other Democratic senators were cosponsors of the Border and Port Security Act, legislation that would mandate U.S. Customs and Border Protection “hire, train and assign at least 500 officers per year until the number of needed positions the model identifies is filled” in addition to requiring the commissioner of the Customs and Border Protection to determine potential equipment and infrastructure improvements that could be used for ports of entry.
In April 2018, Harris was one of five senators to send a letter to acting director of ICE Thomas Homan on standards used by the agency when determining how to detain a pregnant woman, requesting that pregnant women not be held in custody unless under extraordinary standards after reports “that ICE has failed to provide critical medical care to pregnant women in immigration detention – resulting in miscarriages and other negative health outcomes”.
Harris Tours U.S.-Mexico Border, 2011
In July 2018, the Trump administration falsely accused Harris of “supporting the animals of MS-13.” She responded, “As a career prosecutor, I actually went after gangs and transnational criminal organizations. That’s being a leader on public safety. What is not, is ripping babies from their mothers.”
In July 2018, Harris was one of 22 senators to sponsor the Stop Shackling and Detaining Pregnant Women Act, which if enacted would prohibit immigration officers from detaining pregnant women in a majority of circumstances and improve conditions of care for individuals in custody.
Harris speaking at L.A.’s Families Belong Together protest in June 2018
In August 2018, Harris led fifteen Democrats and Bernie Sanders in a letter to United States Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen demanding that the Trump administration take immediate action in attempting to reunite 539 migrant children with their families, citing each passing day of inaction as intensifying “trauma that this administration has needlessly caused for children and their families seeking humanitarian protection.”
In November 2018, Harris was one of eleven senators to sign a letter to United States Secretary of Defense James Mattis concerning “the overt politicization of the military” with the Trump administration’s deployment of 5,800 troops to the U.S.–Mexico border, and requesting a briefing and written justification from the U.S. Northern Command for troop deployment, while urging Mattis to “curb the unprecedented escalation of DOD involvement in immigration enforcement.”
In January 2019, Harris was one of twenty senators to sponsor the Dreamer Confidentiality Act, a bill imposing a ban on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from passing information collected on DACA recipients to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Justice, or any other law enforcement agency with exceptions in the case of fraudulent claims, national security issues, or non-immigration related felonies being investigated.
In June 2019, following the Housing and Urban Development Department’s confirmation that DACA recipients did not meet eligibility for federal backed loans, Harris and eleven other senators introduced The Home Ownership Dreamers Act, legislation that mandated that the federal government was not authorized to deny mortgage loans backed by the Federal Housing Administration, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, or the Agriculture Department solely due to the immigration status of an applicant.
In July 2019, along with Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, Harris sent a letter to the Office of Refugee Resettlement asserting that the agency “should be prioritizing reunification of every child as soon as possible, but instead it has been responsible for policies that are forcing longer stays in government custody for children” and that it was mandatory that the office “ensure that the custody and processing of [unaccompanied migrant children] is meeting the minimum standards required by domestic and international law.”
In July 2019, Harris and fifteen other Senate Democrats introduced the Protecting Sensitive Locations Act which mandated that ICE agents get approval from a supervisor ahead of engaging in enforcement actions at sensitive locations with the exception of special circumstances and that agents receive annual training in addition to being required to report annually regarding enforcement actions in those locations.
In August 2019, after the Trump administration released a new regulation imposing the possibility that any green card and visa applicants could be turned down in the event they have low incomes or little education and have used benefits such as food stamps and housing vouchers at some point, Harris referred to the regulation as part of President Trump’s ongoing campaign “to vilify a whole group of people” and cited Trump’s sending of service members to the southern border and building a border wall as part of his goal to distract “from the fact that he has betrayed so many people and has actually done very little that has been productive in the best interest of American families.”
San Francisco Pride, 2019
During her tenure as California Attorney General, Harris declined to defend the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in court. She supported the Obama administration’s guidance supporting transgender students. Following the Supreme Court’s overturning of the ban on same-sex marriage, she proceeded to conduct California’s first same-sex marriage. Later on in 2015, she argued in court to withhold gender reassignment surgery from two transgender inmates who were prescribed the procedure while serving the sentences. This stance disappointed some LGBT rights advocates; she later stated that she only took that stance in court because her job required her to do so.
As a member of the U.S. Senate, she co-sponsored the Equality Act.
On October 7, 2019, Harris unveiled a six months paid family and medical leave plan that included forming a new Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave that would oversee, determine eligibility and authorize benefit payments. Harris’s paid leave program would be funded through general revenue and payroll contributions and establish a federal Bureau of Children and Family Justice. In a statement, Harris said the US will be brought “closer to economic justice for workers and ensures newborn children or children who are sick can get the care they need from a parent without thrusting the family into upheaval” via a six-month paid leave guarantee.
In September 2017, Harris was one of nine senators to sign a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai that charged the FCC with failing “to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to comment on the tens of thousands of filed complaints that directly shed light on proposed changes to existing net neutrality protections.”
In March 2018, Harris was one of ten senators to sign a letter spearheaded by Jeff Merkley lambasting a proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that would curb the scope of benefits from the Lifeline program during a period where roughly 6.5 million people in poor communities relied on Lifeline to receive access to high-speed internet, citing that it was Pai’s “obligation to the American public, as the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to improve the Lifeline program and ensure that more Americans can afford access, and have means of access, to broadband and phone service.” The senators also advocated for insuring “Lifeline reaches more Americans in need of access to communication services.”
In a September 2019 letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Harris called for the creation of a task force to investigate allegations against Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh and look into whether Kavanaugh lied to Congress during his testimony the previous year as a Supreme Court nominee. In October 2019, when asked whether she thought a president undergoing impeachment inquiries should be authorized to nominate Supreme Court justices, Harris replied, “That’s a great question. I think he should be put on a timeout across the board.”
Harris opposed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, and has called for a repeal of the bill’s tax cuts for wealthy Americans. In 2018, she proposed a tax cut for the majority of working- and middle-class Americans. An analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimated that the bill would reduce federal revenue by $2.8 trillion over a decade. She proposed to pay for the tax cuts by repealing tax cuts for wealthy Americans and by increasing taxes on corporations.
In May 2019, Harris stated she would not have voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) due to her belief that “we can do a better job to protect American workers” and called for the United States to do “a better job in terms of thinking about the priorities that should be more apparent now than perhaps they were then, which are issues like the climate crisis and what we need to build into these trade agreements.”
In May 2019, Harris attributed the 2018 gubernatorial losses of Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, in both Georgia and Florida to voter suppression.