Set your curiosity free with richer, better connected information.

Kamala Harris

United States Senator from California

Top 10 Kamala Harris related articles

Kamala Harris
United States Senator
from California
Assumed office
January 3, 2017
Serving with Dianne Feinstein
Preceded byBarbara Boxer
32nd Attorney General of California
In office
January 3, 2011 – January 3, 2017
GovernorJerry Brown
Preceded byJerry Brown
Succeeded byXavier Becerra
27th District Attorney of San Francisco
In office
January 8, 2004 – January 3, 2011
Preceded byTerence Hallinan
Succeeded byGeorge Gascón
Personal details
Kamala Devi Harris

(1964-10-20) October 20, 1964 (age 55)
Oakland, California, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Douglas Emhoff (m. 2014)
ParentsShyamala Gopalan (mother)
Donald Harris (father)
RelativesMaya Harris (sister)
Meena Harris (niece)
EducationHoward University (BA)
University of California, Hastings (JD)
WebsiteSenate website

Kamala Devi Harris (/ˈkɑːmələ/ KAH-mə-lə;[1] born October 20, 1964)[2] is an American lawyer and politician serving as the junior United States Senator from California since 2017. A member of the Democratic Party, Harris is the first woman of Jamaican or Indian ancestry to represent California in the United States Senate.

Born in Oakland, California, Harris is a graduate of Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Harris began her career in the Alameda County District Attorney's Office before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney's Office and later the City Attorney of San Francisco's office. In 2004, she was elected the 27th District Attorney of San Francisco, serving until 2011.

Harris was elected Attorney General of California in 2010, and was re-elected 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. As a senator, she has supported single-payer healthcare, federal descheduling of cannabis, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the DREAM Act, a ban on assault weapons, and progressive tax reform. She gained a national profile after her pointed questioning of Trump administration officials during Senate hearings, including then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Associate Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.[3]

She ran for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 election, briefly becoming a frontrunner before ending her campaign on December 3, 2019.[4] She is widely considered one of the top contenders to be chosen by Joe Biden as his vice-presidential running mate.[5][6][7]

Kamala Harris Intro articles: 25

Early life and education

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 from India in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at UC Berkeley.[8] She was from the Besant Nagar neighborhood of Chennai, Tamil Nadu.[9] Her father, Donald Harris, is a Stanford University Emeritus Professor of Economics, who emigrated from Jamaica in 1961 for graduate study in economics at UC Berkeley.[10][11] His academic career includes a Faculty Fellow at Cambridge University, Fulbright Scholar in Brazil and Mexico, and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yale University.[11]

She identifies herself as black and sees her experience primarily as American.[12] Harris was raised in Berkeley, California with her younger sister, Maya Harris.[13][14] She grew up attending both a Black Baptist church, where she and her sister sang in the choir, and a Hindu temple.[15] As a child, Harris used to visit her extended family in Chennai and was reportedly close to her maternal grandfather P.V. Gopalan, a career civil servant for the federal Government of India.[8][16] Harris began kindergarten in the second year of Berkeley's school desegregation busing program, which adopted busing to bring racial balance to the city's public schools; a bus drove her to a school which, two years prior, had been 95% white.[17] Her parents divorced when she was 7; when she and her sister would visit their father in Palo Alto on weekends, she stated that neighbors' kids were not allowed to play with them because they were black.[15] When she was 12, Harris and her sister moved with their mother to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, where she had accepted a research position at Jewish General Hospital and teaching at McGill University.[18] She was a popular student at Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec, graduating in 1981.[19]

She went on to Howard University in Washington, D.C. where she double-majored in political science and economics, interned as a mailroom clerk for California Senator Alan Cranston, chaired the economics society, led the debate team, demonstrated against apartheid, and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.[20][21] Harris returned to California, where in 1989 she earned her Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.[22] She was admitted to the State Bar of California in 1990.[23]

Kamala Harris Early life and education articles: 38

Early career (1990–2004)

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."[24] In 1994, California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (with whom Harris was in a relationship)[24] appointed Harris to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later the California Medical Assistance Commission.[24] In February 1998, San Francisco District Attorney, Terence Hallinan, recruited Harris as an Assistant District Attorney.[25] There, 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 reportedly clashed with Hallinan's assistant, Darrell Salomon.[26] Salomon's appointment coincided with the introduction of Proposition 21, which would grant prosecutors the option of trying juvenile defendants in Superior Court rather than juvenile courts.[27] Harris became involved in campaigning against the measure. Her knowledge and commitment to the issue was such that the Public Information Officer, Fred Gardner, would give reporters the option to interview both Harris and Hallinan. Salomon ordered Gardner to stop directing Prop 21 media inquiries to Harris. Hallinan ordered that all calls from reporters go directly to him and then retaliated by reassigning Harris, a de facto demotion. Shortly after, Harris led a group of supervisors who confronted Hallinan about Salomon's behavior. However, when their attempt to get him removed failed, Harris filed a complaint and quit; Salomon followed shortly thereafter.

In August 2000, Harris took a new job at San Francisco City Hall, working for City Attorney Louise Renne.[28] Harris ran the Family and Children's Services Division representing child abuse and neglect cases. Renne said of Harris: "She will make the best DA this city has seen in years."[29]

2003 Campaign for District Attorney

Harris with Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, 2004

In 2002, she began "methodically gathering support" to run against Hallinan, calling Mark Buell, the stepfather of her friend Summer Tompkins Walker, and telling him of her intentions.[30] Impressed, Buell offered to be her finance chair and advised she would need to raise more than $150,000 to defeat an incumbent, the highest amount ever raised for the position. He and Harris organized a finance committee composed mostly of Harris's friends, including Vanessa Getty and Susan Swig.[30]

Harris sought to run a campaign that disrupted negative stereotypes of black women and set up her campaign office in Bayview, the "most isolated neighborhood" in San Francisco.[30] Running against Hallinan, and defense attorney, Bill Fazio, Harris was the least known candidate, but noted to be "whip-smart, hard-working, and well-credentialed."[31] Harris's campaign 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 withhold its influential endorsement from an incumbent.[29] Hallinan and Fazio sought to link Harris to Willie Brown, who was campaigning and fundraising for Harris, through a PAC.[29] Harris denied financially benefitting from Brown, and countered that statements used to tie her to Brown were misogynistic.[29]

In October 2003, the San Francisco Ethics Commission found that Harris unintentionally[32] violated the city's campaign finance law by exceeding the voluntary $211,000 spending limit. In what was thought to be the largest fine to date under that law, the Ethics Commission levied up to $34,000 in penalties and corrective measures, and ordered her to buy newspaper ads informing voters about not abiding by the spending cap. Harris accepted full blame, saying, "Leadership isn't about being perfect. Leadership means taking responsibility."[32] Harris spent nearly $625,000 while Hallinan spent just over $285,000; both advanced to the general election runoff with 33% and 37% of the vote, respectively.[33]

Hallinan was running for re-election amidst the backdrop of the Fajitagate scandal, in which three off-duty police officers got into a fight with residents over a bag of fajitas. Hallinan alleged that Prentice E. Sanders, the city's first black Chief of Police, and other officers were involved in a cover-up of the criminal acts of the three off-duty officers, indicting all of them for obstruction of justice in February 2003. Sanders resigned, but Hallinan was forced to drop the charges against Sanders less than a month later when he was unable to prove evidence of a conspiracy.[34] Sanders pursued legal action and was declared factually innocent, damaging Hallinan's credibility.[35]

In the runoff, Harris pledged to never seek the death penalty and to prosecute three-strike offenders only in cases of violent felonies.[36] Harris ran a "forceful" campaign, assisted by former Mayor Willie Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein, writer and cartoonist Aaron McGruder, and comedians Eddie Griffin and Chris Rock.[37][38] Harris differentiated herself from Hallinan by attacking his performance.[39] She argued that she left his office because it was technologically inept and "dysfunctional," emphasizing his "abysmal" 52% conviction rate for serious crimes despite an 83% average conviction rate statewide.[40] She accused Hallinan of mismanaging his office by promoting people in his office without merit and covering up allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.[41] Harris further charged that his office wasn't doing enough to stem the city's gun violence, particularly in poor neighborhoods like the Bayview and the Tenderloin, and attacked his willingness to accept plea bargains in cases of domestic violence: "It is not progressive to be soft on crime."[42][43]

Harris won with 56-44 percent of the vote, becoming California's first woman and first African-American district attorney.[44]

Kamala Harris Early career (1990–2004) articles: 39

District Attorney of San Francisco (2004–2011)

Kamala Harris as District Attorney of San Francisco

Public safety

Felony conviction rate

Harris inherited a 50.3% felony conviction rate from Hallinan when she took over in 2004. During her tenure, the felony conviction rate rose to 53.2% in 2005 to 65.5% in 2006, the highest in a decade.[45] The felony conviction rate continued to rise, reaching 76% in 2009.[46] Convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006.[46] While Harris oversaw more than 1900 convictions for marijuana possession, lawyers working in her office stated that most defendants for low-level possession were not sent to prison, consistent with the city and county's law enforcement priorities.[47]

Harris was re-elected in 2007 when she ran unopposed.[48]

Non-violent crimes

In summer 2005, Harris created a unit to tackle environmental crimes.[49] Harris filed charges against the Alameda Publishing Corporation for dumping hazardous printing ink in San Francisco's Bayview neighborhood. 50 gallon buckets of hazardous ink were left overturned and leaking: the corporation and its publishers were charged with unlawful disposal and transportation of hazardous waste and with depositing of hazardous substances on a road.[50]

In 2006, Republican Ed Jew won a highly competitive election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Harris began investigating Jew for violating residency requirements necessary to hold his supervisor position.[51] Harris alleged that Jew lied under oath and falsified documents regarding his residency in the Sunset District so he could run for the District 4 seat for supervisor, adding that Jew had never resided at the 28th Avenue home or any other home in District 4 during his run. Jew maintained that he did reside at the Sunset home, but records associated with the 28th Avenue house that Jew claimed as his primary residence showed that water to the home had been shut off since March 2006 and the service wasn't started in Jew's name until Sept. 2006, more than 60 days after he would have been required to live there. Jew turned himself in.[51] Thereafter, Mayor Gavin Newsom suspended Jew and began the process of removing him from office. On January 10, 2008, Jew resigned, swearing never to seek public office again. On October 10, 2008, Jew pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud and extortion charges and state perjury charges and was sentenced to 64 months in state prison and fined more than $12,000.[52]

Violent crimes

In the early 2000s, the City and County of San Francisco murder rate per capita drastically outpaced the national average. Within the first six months of taking office, Harris cleared 27 of 74 backlogged homicide cases by settling 14 by plea bargain and taking 11 to trial; with 9 convictions and 2 hung juries, she attained an 81% success rate. She took 49 violent crime cases to trial and secured 36 convictions, for an 84% success rate.[53] From 2004 to 2006, Harris achieved an 87% conviction rate for homicides and a 90% conviction rate for all felony gun violations.[54]

Harris also pushed for higher bail for criminal defendants involved in gun-related crimes, arguing that historically low bail encouraged outsiders to commit crimes in San Francisco. SFPD officers credited Harris with tightening loopholes in bail and drug programs that defendants had used in the past.[55] In addition to creating a gun crime unit, Harris opposed releasing defendants on their own recognizance if they were arrested on gun crimes, sought minimum 90-day sentences for possession of concealed or loaded weapons, and charged all assault weapons possession cases as felonies, adding that she would seek prison terms for criminals who possessed or used assault weapons and would seek maximum penalties on gun-related crimes:[56]

If you carry an illegal gun in the city of San Francisco and your case is brought to my office, you are going to spend time in jail. Period.[56]

In April 2005, Harris pursued the prosecution of Charles Rothenberg a.k.a. Charley Charles, under California's three strikes law for illegal possession of a firearm. Rothenberg became infamous in the 1980s when he set his 6-year-old son, Dave Dave, on fire amidst a custody dispute with his ex-wife. Rothenberg previously served 6 1/2 years in prison for dousing the hotel room in kerosene and setting it ablaze while his son was asleep. Having been convicted of attempted murder and arson, and now illegal firearm possession, Rothenberg's act constituted a third "strike" under state law, triggering a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.[57]

In May 2005, a nine year old was assaulted after a convicted sex offender broke into a home in the Ingleside district. Roberto Gamero was arrested on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, child molestation, false imprisonment, and burglary and later sentenced to more than 17 years in prison.[58][59] That summer, Harris's office brought three charges of murder with special circumstances against LaShaun Harris, who was seen throwing her young sons – ages 2, 6, and 16 months – into the San Francisco Bay.[60] LaShaun Harris, a paranoid schizophrenic, pleaded innocent to three counts, stating that "she had carried out God's will."[60] A jury found her guilty of second-degree murder, but the judge ruled that she was insane and ordered her hospitalized for 25 years to life.[61] The conviction was upheld on appeal.[62]

Kamala Harris also created a special Hate Crimes Unit, focusing on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools.[63] In early 2006, Gwen Araujo, a 17-year old American Latina transgender teenager, was murdered by two men who later used the "gay panic defense" before being convicted of second-degree murder. Harris, alongside Araujo's mother Sylvia Guerrero, convened a two-day conference of at least 200 prosecutors and law enforcement officials nationwide to discuss strategies to counter such legal defenses.[64] Harris subsequently supported A.B. 1160, the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act, advocating that California's penal code include jury instructions to ignore bias, sympathy, prejudice, or public opinion in making their decision, also making mandatory for district attorney's offices in California to educate prosecutors about panic strategies and how to prevent bias from affecting trial outcomes.[65] In September 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed A.B. 1160 into law; the law put California on record as declaring it contrary to public policy for defendants to be acquitted or convicted of a lesser included offense on the basis of appeals to "societal bias."[65][66]

In August 2007, State Assemblyman Mark Leno introduced legislation to ban gun shows at the Cow Palace, joined by Harris, Police Chief Heather Fong, and Mayor Gavin Newsom. City leaders contended the shows were directly contributing to the proliferation of illegal guns and spiking homicide rates in San Francisco: Mayor Newsom earlier that month signed into law local legislation banning gun shows on city and county property. Leno alleged that merchants drove through the public housing developments nearby and illegally sold weapons to residents.[67] While the bill would stall, local opposition to the shows continued until the Cow Palace Board of Directors in 2019 voted to approve a statement banning all future gun shows.[68]

Reform efforts

Recidivism and re-entry initiative

Back on Track Graduation

In 2004, Harris recruited civil rights activist Lateefah Simon, the youngest woman to ever receive a MacArthur Fellowship, to create San Francisco Reentry Division. The flagship program was the Back on Track initiative, a first-of-its-kind reentry program for first-time nonviolent offenders age 18–30. Initiative participants whose crimes were not weapon or gang-related would plead guilty in exchange for a deferral of sentencing and regular appearances before a judge over a 12 to 18-month period. The program maintained rigorous graduation requirements, mandating completion of up to 220 hours of community service, obtaining a high-school-equivalency diploma, maintaining steady employment, taking parenting classes, and passing drug tests. At graduation, the court would dismiss the case and expunge the graduate's record.[69] Over six years, Harris's pioneer program produced over 200 graduates, and achieved a low recidivism rate of less than 10 percent, compared to 53 percent of California's drug offenders that returned to prison within two years of release. Back on Track earned recognition from the U.S. Department of Justice as a model for reentry programs. The DOJ found that the cost to the taxpayers per participant was markedly lower ($5,000) than the cost of adjudicating a case ($10,000) and housing a low-level offender ($50,000).[70] In 2009, a state law (the Back on Track Reentry Act, A.B. 750) was enacted, encouraging other California counties to start similar programs.[71][72] Adopted by the National District Attorneys Association as a model, prosecutor offices in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta have used Back on Track as a template for their own programs.[73][74][75]

Refusal to seek the death penalty

Harris made a campaign pledge to never seek the death penalty as a prosecutor.[36] 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 Dianne Feinstein and former Mayor of San Francisco, in a surprise move, rose to the pulpit and called on Harris, seated in the front pew, to seek the death penalty, prompting a standing ovation from the 2,000 uniformed police officers in attendance. Association President Gary Delagnes echoed her call and demanded that Espinoza's killer "pay the ultimate price."[76] Despite immense political pressure from members of California's political establishment, including U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Harris still refused.[77] Public polling found that 70% of city voters backed Harris's decision not to seek the death penalty, with only 22% opposed.[78] Harris's convictions were 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 two sons.[79] On September 10, 2009, she announced she would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole, a decision Mayor Gavin Newsom backed.[80]

Harris has expressed the belief that life without possibility of parole is a better, more cost-effective, punishment.[81] According to the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, the death penalty costs $137 million per year.[82] If the system were changed to life without possibility of parole, the annual costs would be approximately $12 million per year.[82] She noted that the resulting surplus could put 1,000 more police officers into service in San Francisco alone.[81]

Truancy initiative

In 2006, as part of an initiative to reduce the city skyrocketing homicide rate, Harris led a city-wide effort to combat truancy for at-risk elementary school youth in San Francisco.[83] Declaring chronic truancy a matter of public safety and pointing out that the majority of prison inmates and homicide victims are dropouts or habitual truants, Harris's office met with thousands of parents at high-risk schools and sent out letters warning all families of the legal consequences of truancy at the beginning of the fall semester, adding she would prosecute the parents of chronically truant elementary students; penalties included a $2,500 fine and up to a year in jail.[84]

In 2008, Harris issued citations against six parents whose children missed at least 50 days of school, the first time San Francisco prosecuted adults for student truancy. San Francisco's school chief, Carlos Garcia, stated that the path from truancy to prosecution was lengthy, and that the school district usually spends months encouraging parents through phone calls, reminder letters, private meetings, hearings before the School Attendance Review Board, and offers of help from city agencies and social services; two of the six parents entered no plea but said they would work with the DA's office and social service agencies to create "parental responsibility plans" to help them start sending their children to school regularly.[85] By April 2009, there were 1,330 elementary school students who were habitual or chronic truants, down from 1,730 in 2008, 2,517 in 2007 and 2,856 in 2006, amounting to a 23% drop since the 2005–06 school year.[86] Although controversial when first introduced, Harris's office only prosecuted seven parents in three years, with none jailed.[86]

Kamala Harris District Attorney of San Francisco (2004–2011) articles: 36

Attorney General of California (2011–2017)

2010 election

Official Attorney General Photo

On November 12, 2008, Harris announced her candidacy for California Attorney General. Both of California's Senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, United Farm Workers cofounder Dolores Huerta, and Mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa all endorsed her during the primary.[87] In the June 8, 2010 primary, she was nominated with 33.6% of the vote, defeating Alberto Torrico and Chris Kelly.[88]

In the general election, she faced Republican Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who led most of the race. Cooley ran as a nonpartisan, distancing himself from the Meg Whitman campaign. However, during a debate on October 5, Cooley complained about the low salary of the attorney general, stating his intention to accept a pension and the salary in a practice known as "double-dipping." Harris turned his remarks into a cutting political ad that portrayed him as out-of-touch.[89]

On election night, November 2, 2010, Cooley declared victory, but mail-in and provisional ballots remained uncounted, with the lead changing four times. On November 24, as the count advanced, Harris led by more than 55,000 votes. Cooley conceded the next day.[90]

On January 3, 2011, Harris made history as the first Jamaican-American and Indian-American woman to serve as California Attorney General.[91]

2014 election

Harris announced her intention to run for re-election in February 2014 and filed paperwork to run on February 12.[92] The Sacramento Bee,[93] Los Angeles Daily News,[94] and Los Angeles Times endorsed her for reelection.[95]

On November 4, 2014, Harris was re-elected against Republican Ronald Gold in a landslide, winning 57.5% of the vote to 42.5%.[96]

Significant cases and policies

Children's rights

Visiting Peterson Middle School

In 2011, after she was elected Attorney General, Harris urged criminal penalties for parents of truant children as she did as District Attorney of San Francisco, allowing the court to defer judgment if the parent agreed to a mediation period to get their child back in school. Critics charged that local prosecutors implementing her directives were overzealous in their enforcement and that Harris's rhetoric legitimized the notion that parents were responsible for their children's education.[97]

In 2013, Harris issued a report titled "In School + On Track," which found that more than 250,000 elementary school students in the state were "chronically absent", meaning they missed 18 or more days of school. The report found that the statewide truancy rate for elementary students in the 2012–2013 school year was nearly 30%, at a cost of nearly $1.4 billion to school districts since funding is based on attendance rates.[98] The 2014 edition of In School + On Track released updated data and looked at gaps in state infrastructure for collecting attendance information and disparities in student attendance and discipline by race, income, and other subgroups such as foster youth. Since the last report, the statewide truancy rate for elementary school children rose 1.2%.[99]

In 2015, Harris announced that she would start a new agency called the Bureau of Children's Justice to address 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.[100] Harris released the 2015 draft of In School + On Track, which reported that public awareness of the issue has increased, while districts have improved their monitoring and tracking techniques. 82% of districts reported changes to their data collection, while more than 60% of district reported they have changed their alert systems to track a student's attendance history; 95% of all surveyed school districts reported they have made changes to improve attendance.[101]

Criminal justice reform

In November 2013, Harris launched the California Department of Justice's Division of Recidivism Reduction and Re-Entry in partnership with district attorney offices in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Alameda County.[102] In March 2015, Harris announced the creation of a pilot program in coordination with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department called "Back on Track LA." Like Back on Track, individuals participating in the pilot program for 24–30 months, and included first time, nonviolent offenders between 18 and 30. Assigned a case manager, participants received education through a partnership with the Los Angeles Community College District and job training services.[103]

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."[104] In September 2014, attorneys for Harris argued unsuccessfully in a court filing against the early release of prisoners, citing the need for inmate firefighting labor. When the memo provoked headlines, Harris spoke out against the memo. She said that she was unaware of it, and the attorneys had produced the memo without her knowledge.[105] Since the 1940s, qualified California inmates have the option of volunteering to receive comprehensive training from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection in exchange for sentence reductions and more comfortable prison accommodations; prison firefighters receive about $2 a day, and another $1 when battling fires.[106]

Harris's record on wrongful conviction cases as Attorney General has engendered some criticism from academics and activists. For example, law professor Lara Bazelon contends Harris "weaponized technicalities" to uphold lengthy sentences.[107] In 2014, Judge Cormac J. Carney vacated the death sentence of convicted rapist and murderer Ernest Dewayne Jones, declaring capital punishment in California unconstitutional on the basis of the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment because "systemic delay and dysfunction" rendered the process arbitrary.[108] Harris appealed, contending Carney failed to abide by the highly-circumscribed habeas corpus procedure set forth in the binding Supreme Court precedent of Teague v. Lane prohibiting federal courts from announcing a new rule of constitutional law in habeas cases.[109] The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Harris when it unanimously overturned Carney’s order.[110] While she was Attorney General, Harris declined 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.[104]

Law enforcement accountability

In 2014, after a rash of racially motivated police killings nationwide, Harris conducted a 90-day review of implicit bias and lethal use of force. In April 2015, Harris introduced the first of its kind "Principled Policing: Procedural Justice and Implicit Bias" training, designed in conjunction with Stanford University psychologist and professor Jennifer Eberhardt, to help law enforcement officers overcome barriers to neutral policing and rebuild the relationship of trust between law enforcement and the community. All Command-level staff received the training. The training was part of a package of reforms introduced within the California Department of Justice, which also included additional resources deployed to increase the recruitment and hiring of diverse special agents, an expanded role for the department to investigate officer-related shooting investigations, and community policing.[111] In 2015, Harris's California Department of Justice was the first statewide agency in the country to require all of its police officers to wear body cameras.[112] That same year, Harris announced a new state law requiring every law enforcement agency in California to collect, report, and publish expanded statistics on how many people are shot, seriously injured or killed by peace officers throughout the state.[113]

Later that year, Harris appealed a judge's order to take over the prosecution of a high-profile mass murder case and to eject all 250 prosecutors from the Orange County District Attorney's office over allegations of misconduct by Republican D.A. Tony Rackauckas. Rackauckas was alleged to have illegally employed jailhouse informants and concealed evidence.[114] Harris noted that it was unnecessary to ban all 250 prosecutors from working on the case, as only a few had been directly involved, later promising a narrower criminal investigation. The U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation into Rackauckas in December 2016, but he was not re-elected.[115]

In 2016, Harris announced a patterns and practices investigation into purported civil rights violations and use of excessive force by the two largest law enforcement agencies in Kern County, California, the Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff's Department.[116] Labelled the "deadliest police departments in America" in a five-part Guardian expose, a separate investigation commissioned by the ACLU and submitted to the California Department of Justice corroborated reports of police using excessive force. The ACLU found that officers had engaged in patterns of excessive force – including shooting and beating to death unarmed individuals – as well as a practice of filing retaliatory criminal charges against individuals subjected to excessive force. Further analysis also revealed the highest rate of police homicides in the country, as well as excessive use of force resulting in 17 deaths of unarmed civilians from 2009 to 2013 in the form of dog attacks and tazings.[117]

LGBTQ rights

In 2008, California voters passed Prop 8, a California ballot proposition and a state constitutional amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman. Legal challenges to Prop 8 were presented by opponents quickly after its approval, and a pair of same-sex couples filed a lawsuit against the initiative in federal court in the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger (later Hollingsworth v. Perry). In August 2010, Chief Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional under both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment,[118] since it purported to re-remove rights from a disfavored class only, with no rational basis. The official proponents' justifications for the measure were analyzed in over fifty pages covering eighty findings of fact. The state government supported the ruling and refused to defend the law.[119] In their 2010 campaigns, both California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Harris both ran on platforms promising not to defend the proposition.[120] After being elected, Harris declared her office would not defend the marriage ban, leaving the task to Prop 8's proponents.[121]

On February 7, 2012, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2–1 decision, reached the same conclusion as the district court, but on narrower grounds. The court ruled that it was unconstitutional for California to grant marriage rights to same-sex couples, only to take them away shortly after. The ruling was stayed pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.[122] The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari that December, ordering the parties to brief and argue the additional question of whether supporters of Prop. 8 have standing, i.e., a legal right to be involved in the case, under Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution.[122] On February 27, 2013, Harris filed an amicus curiae brief, arguing that Prop 8 was unconstitutional and that initiative's sponsors did not have legal standing to represent California's interests by defending the law in federal court.[123]

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision, ruled that the proponents did not possess legal standing in their own right to defend Prop 8 in federal court, either to the Supreme Court or (previously) to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Therefore, the Court vacated the decision of the Ninth Circuit, and remanded the case for further proceedings. The decision left the district court's 2010 ruling intact.[124] The next day, Harris, in a speech delivered in downtown Los Angeles, declared that all 58 counties in California must abide by Judge Walker's 2010 ruling that declared Prop 8 unconstitutional, urging the Ninth Circuit to lift the stay on same-sex marriages as soon as possible — even before the usual 25-day waiting period until the Supreme Court clerk notified the lower court of its judgement.[125] On June 28, 2013, the Ninth Circuit, on remand, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and dissolved their previous stay of Judge Walker's ruling, enabling Governor Jerry Brown to order same-sex marriages to resume.[126] The same day, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, plaintiffs in the case, married with Harris officiating the ceremony.[127]

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).[128] 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."[129][130] Harris, representing CDCR, challenged the order in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.[131] 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."[132] 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[133] and rendering the case moot.[134]

Consumer protection

Fraud, waste, and abuse

Harris meets Foreclosure Victims

In 2011, Harris announced the creation of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force in the wake of the 2010 United States foreclosure crisis.[135] That same year, Harris obtained two of the largest recoveries in the history of California's False Claims Act – $241 million from Quest Diagnostics and then $323 million from the SCAN healthcare network – over excess state Medi-Cal and federal Medicare payments.[136][137]

In 2012, Harris leveraged California's outsize economic clout as the world's fifth largest economy to obtain better terms in the National Mortgage Settlement against the nation's five largest banks – JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Ally Bank.[138] In her memoir, The Truths We Hold, Harris said that initial negotiations had yielded an offer that amounted to "crumbs," or $2 to $4 billion in relief for California residents.[139] Harris indicated she was prepared to pull out of the negotiations if the banks weren't willing to increase their offer. After meeting with the five chief counsel for the banks and making no progress, Harris decided to withdraw. Her allies, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto backed her decision.[140] Her refusal to budge caused JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon to call her office in a rage, accusing her of stealing from his shareholders.[141] Harris yelled back that he was ripping off her constituents before tempers cooled and negotiations resumed anew.[142] Dimon promised he would talk to the board to see what he would do. Two weeks later, the offer increased to $18 billion, and then $20 billion in debt reduction for California's homeowners.[143]

In 2013, Harris worked with Assembly Speaker John Pérez and Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg in 2013 to introduce the Homeowner Bill of Rights, considered one of the strongest protections nationwide against aggressive foreclosure tactics.[144] The Homeowner Bill of Rights banned 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.[145] Harris achieved multiple nine-figure settlements for California homeowners under the bill mostly for robo-signing and dual-track abuses, as well as prosecuting instances in which loan processors failed to promptly credit mortgage payments, miscalculated interest rates, and charged borrowers improper fees. Harris secured hundreds of millions in relief, including $268 million from Ocwen Financial Corporation, $470 million from HSBC, and $550 million from SunTrust Banks.[146][147][148]

From 2013 to 2015, Harris was highly successful when she pursued financial recoveries for California's public employee and teacher's pensions, CalPERS and CalSTRS against various financial giants for misrepresentation in the sale of mortgage-backed securities. She secured multiple nine-figure recoveries for the state pensions, recovering about $193 million from Citigroup, $210 million from S&P, $300 million from JP Morgan Chase, and over half a billion from Bank of America.[149][150][151][152]

In 2013, Harris declined to authorize a civil complaint drafted by state investigators that accused OneWest Bank, owned by an investment group headed by future U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (then a private citizen), of "widespread violation" of California foreclosure laws.[153] During the 2016 elections, Harris was the only Democratic Senate candidate to receive a donation from Mnuchin, but voted against his confirmation as Treasury secretary in February 2017. In 2019, Harris's campaign stated that the decision not to pursue prosecution hinged on the state's inability to subpoena OneWest. Her press secretary said, "There was no question OneWest conducted predatory lending, and Senator Harris believes they should be punished. Unfortunately, the law was squarely on their side and they were shielded from state subpoenas because they're a federal bank."[154]

In 2014, Harris forced rent-to-own retailer Aaron's, Inc. to refund $28.4 million to California customers and pay $3.4 million in civil penalties to settle allegations that it violated California's Karnette Rental-Purchase Act by charging improper late fees, overcharging customers who paid off contracts early, and omitting important contract disclosures.[155] Aaron's also violated California state privacy laws by permitting its franchised stores to install spyware on rented computers, allowing franchisees to remotely monitor keystrokes, capture screenshots, and even activate the webcam.[155] According to a report on the industry by the National Consumer Law Center, nearly all rent-to-own customers have a household income of below $50,000 and the vast majority are people of color who have attained a high school education or less.[156]

In 2015, Harris obtained a $1.2 billion judgment against for-profit post-secondary education company Corinthian Colleges for false advertising and deceptive marketing targeting vulnerable, low-income students and misrepresenting job placement rates to students, investors, and accreditation agencies.[157] The Court ordered Corinthian to pay $820 million in restitution and another $350 million in civil penalties.[158] That same year, Harris also secured a $60 million settlement with JP Morgan Chase to resolve allegations of illegal debt collection with respect to credit card customers, with the bank also agreeing to change practices that violated California consumer protection laws by collecting incorrect amounts, selling bad credit card debt, running a debt collection mill that "robo-signed" court documents without first reviewing the files as it rushed to obtain judgments and wage garnishments. As part of the settlement, the bank was required to stop attempting to collect on more than 528,000 customer accounts[159]

In 2015, Harris opened an investigation of the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison regarding the closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. California state investigators searched the home of California utility regulator Michael Peevey and found hand written notes, which showed that Peevey had met with an Edison executive in Poland, where the two had negotiated the terms of the San Onofre settlement leaving San Diego taxpayers with a $3.3 billion bill to pay for the closure of the plant. The investigation was closed amidst Harris's 2016 run for the U.S. Senate position.[160][161]

Privacy rights

In February 2012, Harris announced an agreement with six technology giants and their app developers – Apple, Amazon, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, and Research in Motion – to mandate that apps sold in their stores display prominent privacy policies that inform users of the private information they're sharing and with whom.[162] Facebook later joined the agreement. That summer, Harris announced the creation of a Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit to enforce laws related to cyber privacy, identity theft, and data breaches. [163] That winter, Harris sent a letter to 100 mobile-app developers, notifying them of their non-compliance with state privacy laws and asking them to create privacy policies or face a $2500 fine each time a non-compliant app is downloaded by a resident of California.[164]

In 2015, Harris secured two settlements with Comcast, one totaling $33 million over allegations that posted online the names, phone numbers and addresses of tens of thousands of customers who had paid for unlisted voice over internet protocol ("VOIP") phone service and another $26 million settlement to resolve allegations that it discarded paper records without first omitting or redacting private customer information.[165][166] Harris also settled with Houzz over allegations the company recorded phone calls without notifying customers or employees. Houzz was forced to pay $175,000, destroy the recorded calls, and hire a chief privacy officer, the first time such a provision has been included in a settlement with the California Department of Justice.[167]

Public safety

Environmental protection

Attorney General Kamala Harris tours oil spill cleanup efforts.

Harris prioritized environmental protection as attorney general, first securing a comprehensive $44 million settlement to resolve all natural resource damages, penalties, and response costs associated with the 2007 Cosco Busan oil spill, where a container ship collided with the Delta Tower of the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled more than 50,000 gallons of bunker fuel into the San Francisco Bay in 2011.[168] In the aftermath of the 2015 Refugio oil spill, which deposited about 140,000 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, Harris toured the coastline and directed her office's resources and attorneys to investigate possible criminal violations.[169] Thereafter, operator Plains All American Pipeline was indicted on 46 criminal charges related to the spill, with one employee indicted on 3 criminal charges.[170] In 2019, a Santa Barbara jury returned a verdict finding Plains guilty of failing to properly maintain its pipeline and another eight misdemeanor charges; they were sentenced to pay over $3 million in fines and assessments.[171]

From 2015 to 2016, Harris secured multiple multimillion-dollar settlements with fuel service companies Chevron, BP, ARCO, Phillips 66, and ConocoPhillips to resolve allegations they failed to properly monitor the hazardous materials in its underground storage tanks used to store gasoline for retail sale at hundreds of California gas stations.[172][173][174] In summer 2016, automaker Volkswagen AG agreed to pay up to $14.7 billion to settle a raft of claims related to so-called "defeat devices" used to cheat emissions standards on its diesel cars while actually emitting up to 40 times the levels of harmful nitrogen oxides allowed under state and federal law.[175] Harris and the chair of the California Air Resources Board, Mary D. Nichols, announced that California would receive $1.18 billion as well as another $86 million paid to the state of California in civil penalties.[175]

Law enforcement improvements

AG Harris touring the Fresno Regional DNA Laboratory

California's Proposition 69 mandated law enforcement to collect DNA samples from any adult arrested for a felony and from individuals arrested for certain crimes. In 2012, Harris announced that the California Department of Justice had improved its DNA testing capabilities such that samples stored at the state's crime labs could now be analyzed four times faster, within 30 days. Accordingly, Harris reported that her Rapid DNA Service Team within the Bureau of Forensic Services cleared California's entire DNA backlog for the first time in history, having developed a process that allowed higher volume analysis of 5,400 evidence samples – an increase of 11% from 2010 (4,800) and 24% from 2009 (4,100).[176] In April 2014, Harris's team was honored with the U.S. Department of Justice's Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services.[177] Harris's office would later be awarded a $1.6 million grant from the Manhattan District Attorney's initiative to eliminate the backlogs of untested rape kits.[178]

In 2014, Harris introduced OpenJustice, a first-in-the-nation criminal justice data initiative designed with professor Steven Raphael making available statewide data on arrest rates, deaths in law enforcement custody, arrest-related deaths, and law enforcement deaths. Subsequent improvements to the platform revealed data pertaining to clearance rates and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.[179]

Sex crimes

In 2011, Harris obtained a guilty plea and a four-year prison sentence from a stalker who used Facebook and social engineering techniques to illegally access the private photographs of women whose social media accounts he hijacked. Harris commented that the Internet had "opened up a new frontier for crime."[180] Later that year, Harris created the eCrime Unit within the California Department of Justice, a 20-attorney unit specifically targeting technology crimes.[181] In 2015, several purveyors of so-called "revenge porn" sites based in California were arrested, charged with felonies, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms.[182][183] In the first prosecution of its kind in the United States, Kevin Bollaert was convicted on 21 counts of identity theft and six counts of extortion and sentenced to 18 years in prison.[184] Harris brought up these cases when California Congresswoman Katie Hill was targeted for similar cyber exploitation by her ex-husband and forced to resign in late 2019.[185]

In 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.[186] 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 pleaded guilty in California to money laundering and agreed to give evidence against the former co-owners of Backpage.[187] Ferrer simultaneously pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution in Texas state court and Arizona federal court.[187][188] Under pressure, Backpage announced that it was removing its adult section from all of its U.S. sites.[189] Harris welcomed the move, saying "I look forward to them shutting down completely."[190] The investigations continued after she became a senator and in April 2018, Backpage and affiliated sites were seized by federal law enforcement.[188]

Transnational criminal organizations

AG Harris announces the arrest of 101 gang members in Los Banos, California.

In early 2011, Harris ordered the arrest of three men with ties to the Tijuana Cartel suspected of plotting to murder a family in San Diego, seizing two assault weapons, more than 1000 rounds of ammunition, and $20,000 in cash.[191] Later that year, Harris ordered three coordinated law enforcement sweeps in Contra Costa County, the Central Valley, and San Bernardino County, resulting in hundreds of gang leader arrests of Nuestra Familia, Norteños, and the Vagos Motorcycle Club, respectively. Law enforcement officers also seized vast quantities of methamphetamine, cash, and illegal firearms, including an anti-tank gun and a rocket launcher.[192][193][194]

In summer 2012, Harris signed an accord with her counterpart, the Attorney General of Mexico, Marisela Morales to improve coordination of law enforcement resources targeting transnational gangs engaging in the sale and trafficking of human beings across the San Ysidro border crossing. The accord called for closer integration on investigations between offices and sharing best practices.[195] In September 2012, Harris announced that Governor Jerry Brown had signed into law two bills she sponsored to combat human trafficking.[196] In November, Harris presented a report titled "The State of Human Trafficking in California 2012" at a symposium attended by U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Attorney General Morales, outlining the growing prevalence of human trafficking in the state, and highlighting the involvement of transnational gangs in the practice.[197][198]

In early 2014, Harris issued a report titled, "Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Crime,"[199] addressing the prominent role of drug, weapons, and human trafficking, money laundering, and technology crimes employed by various drug cartels from Mexico, Armenian Power, 18th Street Gang, and MS-13 and offering recommendations for state and local law enforcement to combat the criminal activity.[200] Later that year, Harris led a bipartisan delegation of state attorneys general to Mexico City to meet with their Mexican counterparts to discuss joint efforts to address transnational crime, culminating in the signing of a letter of intent with the Comisión Nacional Bancaria y de Valores and establishing a bi-national working group on enforcement of money laundering.[201] Following the visit to Mexico City, Harris convened a summit focused on the use of technology to fight transnational organized crime with state and federal officials from the U.S., Mexico, and El Salvador, including Attorney General of Mexico Jesus Murillo Karam and Attorney General of El Salvador Luis Martinez.[202]

In 2015, Harris ordered the arrest of 75 individuals in Merced County and 52 individuals in Tulare County affiliated with the Norteños.[203][204] Harris's office also broke up a massive identity theft and tax fraud scam perpetrated by Crips in Long Beach, CA. 32 members were arrested on charges that included 283 counts of criminal conspiracy, 299 counts of identity theft, and 226 counts of grand theft, amount to over $3.3 million stolen by an identity theft scheme and $11 million stolen by a tax fraud scheme.[205]

In 2016, Harris announced wide-sweeping arrests of over 50 members of the Mexican Mafia a.k.a. La Eme, seizing more than 60 firearms, more than $95,000 in cash, and $1.6 million worth of methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana in Riverside County.[206] Later that year, Harris's office coordinated with federal agents in a raid on dozens of businesses in the Los Angeles Fashion District operating as a major money-laundering hub for narcotics traffickers in Mexico, arresting nine people on charges of money laundering through a black market peso exchange scheme and seizing nearly $65 million in illegal proceeds.[207]

Obama appointment speculation

Kamala Harris with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder

During Obama's presidency, Harris was mentioned as a possible nominee for U.S. Attorney General.[208] In her memoir, The Truths We Hold, Harris recounts a moment in 2014 when she answered a call from Eric Holder, informing her he was stepping down and asking if she wanted to take his place.[209] Harris informed Holder that if there were a budget at the Department of Justice to fund and create incentives for local re-entry initiatives, she would be interested. Holder explained no budget existed and any new spending would have to be approved by a Republican-controlled Congress.[210] Thereafter, Harris publicly stated she was not interested in the job.[211]

After the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016, Harris was speculated to be his replacement as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.[212] However, as her campaign had already begun, Harris publicly stated she was only interested in running for the U.S. Senate and did not wish to be considered.[213]

Kamala Harris Attorney General of California (2011–2017) articles: 174