Kamala Harris was born October 20, 1964, to a black Stanford University professor and a Tamil Indian physician mother. Harris became the first California attorney general with African American or South Asian ancestry after defeating Republican rival Steve Cooley in the 2010 election for the position. Harris, formerly San Francisco's district attorney, is also the first woman to serve in the role.
Kamala Harris announced she was running for president in 2020 on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2019.
Fast Facts: Kamala Harris
- Name: Kamala Devi Harris
- Born: October 20, 1964, in Oakland, CA
- Known For: Junior Senator from California; sits on Senate Budget, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Judiciary, and Intelligence committees. First woman, African-American, and South Asian district attorney in San Francisco. First California Attorney General with African-American or South Asian ancestry.
- Education: Howard University, Hastings College of the Law
- Distinctions and Awards: Named one of California's top 75 women litigators by the legal paper "The Daily Journal" and a "Woman of Power" by the National Urban League. Awarded Thurgood Marshall Award by National Black Prosecutors Association. Named Rodel Fellow by the Aspen Institute. On the board of the California District Attorneys Association.
Early Life and Education
Kamala Devi Harris was raised in San Francisco's East Bay, where she attended public schools, worshipped at black churches, and lived in predominantly African-American communities. Her immersion in African-American culture didn't prevent her from being exposed to Indian culture, however.
Her mother took Harris to Hindu temples to worship. Moreover, Harris is no stranger to India, having visited the subcontinent on several occasions to see relatives. Her bicultural heritage and travels around the globe have inspired political insiders to compare her with President Barack Obama. While Obama sometimes struggled with identity issues, as he describes in his memoir "Dreams from My Father," Harris evidently didn't experience growing pains in this vein.
Harris attended high school in Quebec, where she moved with her mother following her parents' divorce. After graduation, Harris attended Howard University, a historically black academic institution. She earned a bachelor's degree from Howard in 1986 and then returned to the bay area in northern California. Upon her return, she enrolled at Hastings College of the Law, where she earned a law degree. Following that accomplishment, Harris proceeded to leave her mark on the legal arena of San Francisco.
Law degree in tow, Harris began prosecuting murder, robbery, and child rape cases as deputy district attorney for the Alameda County District Attorney's Office, serving as a prosecutor from 1990 to 1998. Then, as managing attorney of the Career Criminal Unit of the San Francisco District Attorney's Office, a position she filled from 1998 to 2000, Harris prosecuted cases involving serial felons.
Later, she headed the San Francisco City Attorney's Division on Families and Children for three years. But it was in 2003 that Harris would make history. At the year's end, she was elected as the San Francisco district attorney, becoming the first female, black, and South Asian person to achieve this feat. In November 2007, voters re-elected her to the office.
During her 20 years as a prosecutor, Harris has shaped an identity for herself as being tough on crime. She prides herself on doubling trial conviction rates for gun felonies to 90 percent as San Francisco's top cop. Also, with Harris as head, the San Francisco District Attorney's office increased the percentage of dangerous criminals sentenced to prison by more than half.
But serious crime wasn't Harris' only focus. She also tripled the number of misdemeanor cases sent to trial and prosecuted the parents of truant children, which helped slash the truancy rate by 23 percent.
The San Francisco District Attorney's Office found itself under fire in early 2010 when it came to light that Deborah Madden, a drug lab technician for the city police, confessed to removing cocaine from evidence samples. Her admission resulted in the police lab's testing unit closing and pending drug cases being dismissed. The police department also had to investigate cases already prosecuted due to Madden's admission of evidence tampering.
During the scandal, it was asserted that the District Attorney's Office knew of Madden's evidence tampering. However, it remains unclear what information the district attorney knew about Madden and when Harris learned of the tech's improprieties. The "San Francisco Examiner" has alleged that the District Attorney's Office knew of the situation months before the public was told of the controversy and before the police chief himself learned of the news.
Endorsements and Honors
Harris won endorsements from California's political elite while campaigning for Attorney General, including Senator Diane Feinstein, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. On the national stage, Harris had the backing of former U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Leaders in law enforcement also endorsed Harris, including the then-police chiefs of San Diego and San Francisco.
Harris has also won numerous honors, including being named one of California's top 75 women litigators by the legal paper "The Daily Journal" and as a "Woman of Power" by the National Urban League. Additionally, the National Black Prosecutors Association gave Harris the Thurgood Marshall Award and the Aspen Institute chose her to serve as a Rodel Fellow. Lastly, the California District Attorneys Association elected her to its board.
In January 2015, Kamala Harris announced her bid for the U.S. Senate. She defeated her opponent Loretta Sanchez to become the second woman of African or Asian descent to hold such a position.
As a junior Senator from California, Harris sits on the Senate Budget, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Judiciary, and Intelligence Committees. In 2017, she introduced 13 bills and resolutions, the majority dealing with public lands and natural resources, crime and law enforcement, and immigration.
Member of the Resistance
Harris is an outspoken advocate for immigrant and women's rights, and a proud member of the resistance against Donald Trump's presidency. Speaking at the Women's March in Washington, D.C., on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump was sworn into office, Harris called his inaugural address a “dark” message. Seven days later, she criticized his executive order barring citizens from terror-prone countries entry to the U.S. for 90 days, deeming it a “Muslim ban.”
On June 7, 2017, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, Harris put some tough questions to Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, over the role he played in the May 2017 firing of FBI director James Comey. As a result, Senators John McCain and Richard Burr admonished her for not being more respectful. Six days later, Harris was again taken to task by McCain and Burr for her hardline questioning of Jeff Sessions. Other Democratic members of the committee pointed out that their own questions had been similarly tough, yet Harris was the only member who received reprimands. The media got wind of the incidents and promptly leveled accusations of sexism and racism against McCain and Burr.
Hafalia, Liz. "Judge rips Harris' office for hiding problems." San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2010.
Herb, Jeremy. "Senators try to quiet Harris, but she doesn't back down." CNN, June 7, 2017.
Herndon, Astead W. "Kamala Harris Declares Candidacy, Evoking King and Joining Diverse Field." The New York Times, January 21, 2019.