As national debates and controversies have found their place at Cornell, Rep. Katherine Clark J.D. ’89 (D-MA), discussed her experience at Cornell, her role in the current impeachment hearings and the debate about allowing potentially contentious speakers on campus in an interview with The Sun.
Born in Woodbridge, Connecticut, Clark attended St. Lawrence University in New York. She was admitted to Cornell Law School and graduated with a J.D. in 1989.
Clark said her time at the Cornell Law School was “a great mix, for me, of top law school and small class size.” She cited her involvement in the Legal Aid clinic and as a president of the Women’s Law Coalition as two of the drivers behind her interest in public service.
“I think that a legal degree is such an excellent background for a host of careers. I practiced as an attorney, [learned] to write and evaluate legislation and look at the big issues of constitutionality,” Clark said.
After graduating law school in 1989, Clark travelled throughout the country, working as an attorney, a Federal court clerk and a prosecutor before moving to Melrose, Massachusetts, in 2001.
There, she began her foray into public service by running for the Melrose school council, spurred by an interest in women’s issues and early childhood education.
A victory in the 2007 special election for the seat of the 32nd Middlesex District in the Massachusetts State Legislature marked the beginning of Clark’s burgeoning political career and followed up with a close, but ultimately successful, bid for a seat on the Massachusetts State Senate in 2010.
Clark talked about her decision to run for state office, citing her interactions with local- and state-level politicians.
“I decided to tackle the issues around women and children that have always been priorities for me from the legislative side, instead of the advocacy side,” she said.
“I had never thought about running for political office,” added Clark, “but it is a great way to continue the conversation about how we can provide equality and justice.”
Clark was elected to represent Massachusetts’ 5th congressional district in 2013, and became the Vice Chair of the Democratic Caucus in 2018.
Her current legislative projects include the BE HEARD in the Workplace Act and the BABIES Act, legislation aimed at preventing workplace harassment and improving access to safe and adequate birth centers for women, respectively.
Clark came out in support of gender diversity on Capitol Hill, which touts a record-breaking 131 women in the 2019-2020 116th Congress.
“More women are running for political office and more women are becoming politically engaged,” Clark said. “We’re becoming a more representative Congress.”
The representative criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for his role in the political gridlock in Washington, calling the fact that a large majority of bills — 460 out of 542 at the time of writing — passed by the House of Representatives had not been subject to a vote — a “national scandal.”
“Mitch McConnell has become a whole-owned subsidiary of Donald Trump,” said Clark, adding, “he has abdicated his responsibility as the leader of the Senate.”
Clark has emerged as one of the leading voices in the push for impeachment, with her support dating back to July 2019, as reported by The Atlantic.
“The president’s actions are a betrayal of his oath of office,” said Clark. “His attack on the integrity of the 2020 election is a unifying event that has brought the caucus together,” she continued.
“The caucus is the most diverse that we’ve ever seen, but we can’t pat ourselves on the back and say ‘diversity is our strength,’” Clark said. “We have to use it.”
As the first member of the Democratic leadership to back the impeachment inquiry, Clark said that she is vindicated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement that articles of impeachment are being drafted.
The last topic broached was the issue of allowing divisive speakers on campus, taking into account the recent controversy over a talk by Former Gov. Scott Walker and last years’ protests over the invitation of Dick Cheney to campus.
“Is there a line to be drawn on hate speech?” said Clark, “Absolutely, but I don’t think we should be afraid of challenging ourselves and challenging our arguments by not allowing people on campus that even the majority of students don’t agree with,” she added.
Clark ended by saying, “I think it is always important that we are always challenging our worldview, looking at other perspectives. It can broaden your own perspective and sharpen your arguments.”