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Name: Berrien, Jacqueline
Current Position: Chair

President Obama has turned to a veteran civil rights attorney, Jacqueline A. Berrien, to lead the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an independent agency responsible for eliminating all forms of discrimination in the workplace. Although she was nominated July 17, 2009, Berrien was not confirmed by the Senate until April 7, 2010, Her nomination was greeted warmly by civil rights activists and others on the left, but at least one right-wing organization, Americans for Limited Government, has criticized Berrien as an “ideologue” who “finds racism in everything.”

 
Berren’s mother, Anna, spent almost thirty years as a federal employee in the field of public health, while her father, Clifford, worked for the State Department. Berrien was born in Washington, DC, in 1961. Following in her parents’ footsteps, in her senior year in high school she worked as clerk-typist for the federal government. Berrien earned a B.A. in Government from Oberlin College in 1983, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she served as a General Editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, in 1986. While at Oberlin, Berrien served an internship with the NAACP. After law school, Berrien served as a law clerk to U.W. Clemon, a 1960s-era civil rights activist who became the first African-American U.S. District Court Judge in Alabama. 
 
Following her clerkship, in 1987 Berrien went to work as a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, and in 1989 joined its Women’s Rights Project (WRP), which had been founded by Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1972. At the ACLU WRP, Berrien worked on pregnancy discrimination cases.  In May 1992, Berrien left the ACLU to work for the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, D.C.. In August 1994 she joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), where she coordinated LDF’s work in the area of voting rights and political participation. She represented African-American voters in proceedings before the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. District Courts. In November 2001, she became a Program Officer for the Ford Foundation Peace and Social Justice Program. She administered more than $13 million of grants to promote greater political participation by underrepresented groups, particularly people of color, women, and youth. In September 2004, she returned to the LDF as its new Associate Director-Counsel, where she supervised LDF’s litigation, public education, and organizational work. 
 
Berrien has been a member of the Oberlin College Board of Trustees since 2007. She has taught trial advocacy at Harvard and Fordham law schools and has been an Adjunct Professor of Law at New York Law School, where she taught a course entitled Blacks and American Law. She has published several articles on race and gender discrimination issues, including “A Civil Liberties Imperative: Promoting Quality Education for All African-American Children” in the Columbia Teachers College Record (Summer 1993) and “Pregnancy and Drug Use: The Dangerous and Unequal Use of Punitive Measures,” in the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism (Spring 1990).
 
Berrien  has lived in Brooklyn, New York, since 1987 with her husband, Peter Williams, the executive director of a community economic development corporation. A Democrat, Berrrien has contributed $3,250 to Democratic candidates since 2007, including $3,000 to Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008.
 
Rediscovering Democracy: The Future of Election Law (panel transcript including Berrien) (pdf)
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