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. Harris also announced her intention to remain Attorney General through the end of 2016 and resign shortly before being sworn in as Senator on January 3, 2017.
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 Madras, India, in 1960 to pursue a doctorate in endocrinology at the UC Berkeley. Her mother was 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." 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. His academic career includes a Faculty Fellow at Cambridge University, Fulbright Scholar in Brazil and Mexico and a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Yale University.
Kamala Devi Harris (/ˈkɑːmələ/ KAH-mə-lə; born October 20, 1964 ) is an American lawyer and politician serving as the junior United States Senator from California since 2017. She is a member of the Democratic Party. Previously, she served as the 32nd Attorney General of California from 2011 to 2017.
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 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 research position 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 dance troupe of six dancers that played at community centres and fundraisers. She graduated in 1981.
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, was elected to the liberal-arts student council, led 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 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".
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. During this time, Harris also taught advocacy skills at Stanford and University of San Francisco.
In February 1998, San Francisco District Attorney, Terence Hallinan, recruited 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.
In August 2000, Harris took a new job at San Francisco City Hall, working for City Attorney Louise Renne. Harris ran the Family and Children's Services Division representing child abuse and neglect cases, domestic violence, building code enforcement, and public health matters. Together with Dr. Shannon Thyne, who coordinated the Department of Public Health's child sexual abuse program, they created a program to spot evidence of child sexual abuse in emergency rooms. Renne said of Harris:
Harris inherited a dismal 50.3% felony conviction rate from Hallinan when she took over in 2004. However, under her leadership, the felony conviction rate would steadily rise to 53.2% in 2005 to 65.5% in 2006, the highest in a decade. The felony conviction rate would rise again to 69.9% in 2007 to 70.7% in 2008. By 2009, Harris achieved a 76% conviction rate, up more than 20% over her predecessor. Convictions of drug dealers increased from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006. While Harris oversaw more than 1900 convictions for marijuana possession, lawyers working in her office stated that most defendants for low-level possession were never even charged with a crime, consistent with the city and county's low enforcement priorities. Only 45 people were sentenced to state prison for marijuana trafficking.
Salomon approached Gardner and ordered him to stop directing Prop 21 media inquiries to Harris. Gardner asked her if she was planning to run in 2003, to which Harris replied that it would be "unprofessional" to run against Hallinan if he decided to run for a third term. Gardner relayed Harris' response to Hallinan. However, Hallinan ordered that all calls from reporters go directly to him. He then retaliated and reassigned Harris, which she believed to be 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 then filed a complaint and quit; Salomon followed shortly thereafter The spokesman for the District Attorney's office called Harris' resignation "a sad day [because Harris was] a good lawyer, well-liked and brilliant."
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, leading to lawsuits and allegations of police misconduct. Hallinan alleged that Prentice E. Sanders, the city's first black Chief of Police, and other officers were involved in a coverup 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. Sanders pursued legal action and was declared factually innocent Hallinan was seen to have damaged his credibility in the wake of the scandal.
Born in Oakland, California, Harris is a graduate of Howard University and University of California, Hastings College of the Law. After law school, Harris passed the bar and began working 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 and served from 2004 to 2011. In 2010, Harris won the election as California's Attorney General in 2010 by less than 1 point and about 50,000 votes. She was re-elected in 2014 by a wide margin.
In 2004, Harris created a new unit in the district attorney's office dedicated to prosecuting child assault crimes, staffed by prosecutors already assigned to the sexual assault detail.
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 nonviolent, first-time 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.
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 July 2006, Harris was elected to the National District Attorneys Association's Board of Directors as vice president and appointed to co-chair its Corrections and Re-Entry Committee. She was also selected to co-chair the California District Attorneys Association's sex crimes committee. That same year, she was selected to serve as a Rodel Fellow with The Aspen Institute along with 24 other elected officials.
Harris made a campaign pledge to never seek the death penalty as a prosecutor. 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. Harris's decision attracted the support of Attorney General Bill Lockyer and San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano and Sophie Maxwell, in whose district the murder occurred. 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, who was sitting in the front pew, to seek the death penalty, prompting a standing ovation from the 2,000 uniformed police officers in attendance. Immediately thereafter, Association President Gary Delagnes echoed her call and demanded that Espinoza's killer "pay the ultimate price." 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. Public polling found that 70% of city voters backed Harris' decision not to seek the death penalty, with only 22% opposed. The jury convicted later Hill of second-degree murder.
In 2005, Harris obtained a guilty plea from former San Francisco school official Tim Tronson for fraud and tax evasion. Tronson was originally charged with 22 felony counts in connection with the alleged scheme to divert $500,000 out of a construction escrow account to be paid to an outfit under the control of another consultant, Alpha Omega Bibbs III. Bibbs then allegedly gave the money back to Tronson in the form of checks, who went to a Santa Cruz check cashing facility to convert at least $350,000 into money orders. Tronson served four years in state prison and was ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and $500,000 in restitution.
In 2015, criminal justice advocates contended that the L.A. District Attorney withheld exculpatory evidence from defense counsel in the prosecution of electrician George Gage for sexual abuse of a child, a violation of the so-called Brady rule Gage filed a petition for habeas relief to the California Court of Appeal on the basis of the violations, which was denied for “failure to demonstrate that there is any merit to any of his constitutional contentions,” and summarily upheld by the California Supreme Court. Then in 2005, Gage filed another petition in federal district court focused on unrelated procedural defects unrelated to the Brady violations. Again, the petition was denied by the federal district court and upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. In his third application before the 9th Circuit, which Harris argued should be denied on procedural grounds, a three judge panel unanimously held that Gage’s latest appeal was prohibited under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, barring second or successive petitions for habeas relief.
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 with his son was asleep. Having been convicted of attempted murder and arson, and now illegal firearm possession, Rothernberg's act constituted a third "strike" under state law and triggering a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.
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. That summer, Harris' office brought three charges of murder with special circumstances against LaShaun Harris, who was seen throwing her young sons - age 2, 6, and 16 months - into the San Francisco Bay. Harris, a paranoid schizophrenic, pleaded innocent to three counts, stating that "she had carried out God's will." 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. The conviction was upheld on appeal.
By the end of 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. This amounted to a staggering 23% drop since the 2005–06 school year. In so doing, the school districts referred 110 elementary school families to a review board, up from only 34 families the year before. Despite the controversy surrounding the program for its punitive nature, which would later be criticized in her 2020 presidential campaign, Harris' office only prosecuted seven parents in three years, and not a single parent was ever jailed.
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. 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 has never resided at the 28th Avenue home or any other home in District 4 during his run for office. 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. Facing an arrest warrant and nine felony charges, Jew turned himself in. 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, fined $10,000 for the federal extortion charge, and another $2000 on the perjury charge.
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. 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' 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.
Harris also created a special Hate Crimes Unit, focusing on hate crimes against LGBT children and teens in schools. 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 saying, "the suggestion that criminal conduct is mitigated by bias or prejudice is inappropriate. We can't outlaw it, but we can combat it." 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. 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".
Harris was re-elected in 2007 when she ran unopposed.
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 gun merchants drove through the public housing developments nearby and illegally sold weapons to residents. While the bill would stall, local opposition to the shows would continue until the Cow Palace Board of Directors in 2019 voted to approve a statement banning all future gun shows.
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 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 parental prosecution was lengthy, and that the school district usually spends months encouraging parents to send their children to school 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.
In 2008, Harris worked with Assemblyman Mark Leno to draft legislation that provided young bystanders to violent crime up to $5,000 in mental health services. A.B. 2809, allowed child witnesses access funding from the state's Victim Compensation Program for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Harris said: "For too many children, seeing shootings or stabbings in their neighborhoods is far too common. Before this law, there was no help." Leno's bill was signed into law by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In March 2008, she was named an Attorney of the Year by California Lawyer magazine. A New York Times article published later that year also identified her as a woman with potential to become President of the United States, highlighting her 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 2010, California's largest legal newspaper The Daily Journal designated Harris as a top 100 lawyer and top 75 women litigators in the state. Later that year, Ebony also named her one of the most likely to become the first female president.
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. In the June 8, 2010 primary, she was nominated with 33.6% of the vote, defeating Alberto Torrico and Chris Kelly.
Over six years, Harris' 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). In 2009, a state law (the Back on Track Reentry Act, A.B. 750) was enacted, encouraging other California counties to start similar programs. 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.
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 sons Michael and Matthew. On September 10, 2009, she announced she would seek life in prison without the possibility of parole, a decision Mayor Gavin Newsom backed.
In 2010, it was reported that San Francisco Police Department crime lab technician Deborah Madden had been taking home samples of cocaine for her own use, possibly tainting evidence for hundreds of pending criminal prosecutions. Judge Anne-Christine Massullo wrote in a scathing decision that Harris' office had failed to disclose to defense counsel about the technician's personal problems because Harris had not implemented a written policy so that her office could notify defendants about exculpatory evidence, as required by the binding Supreme Court precedent Brady v. Maryland. Harris said she was not copied on any inter-office communications questioning the dependability of Madden's testimony, but accepted full responsibility for the crime lab's failures. Harris indicated that red tape from SFPD over police personnel files made it difficult to quickly prepare a proper Brady policy. Harris took the remedial step of dismissing a number of drug-related cases, including many in which convictions had already been obtained, that could have been compromised.
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, 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. In their 2010 campaigns, both California Attorney General Jerry Brown and Harris both ran on platforms promising not to defend the proposition. After being elected, Harris declared her office would not defend the marriage ban, leaving the task to Prop 8's proponents.
Harris campaigned aggressively in Los Angeles, once attending seven Sunday services in black churches. On October 22, 2010, President Barack Obama spoke to a crowd of nearly 38,000 people at a political rally in support of the candidates for statewide office in California at USC, including Barbara Boxer, Jerry Brown, and Harris. Cooley outspent Harris, $7 million to $4.5 million.
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
In 2011, Harris announced the creation of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force in the wake of the 2010 United States foreclosure crisis. Shortly thereafter, Harris announced a joint investigatory alliance with Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to combine resources and coordinate strategy, as California and Nevada were the two states hit hardest in the foreclosure crisis; California led the nation in total 546,669 foreclosure filings while Nevada led the nation in percentage of foreclosures at 9.4%, or 106,160 housing units. 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. Medi-Cal.
In 2011, Harris created the eCrime Unit within the California Department of Justice, a 20-attorney unit specifically targeting technology crimes.
In 2011, Harris secured 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, Harris won a court order reviving a state fraud lawsuit against CalPERS board member Alfred J.R. Villalobos and former CalPERS chief executive Federico Buenrosto, Jr. after they declared bankruptcy to avoid charges. Villalobos was alleged to have been paid more than $47 million in commissions to help private equity firms steer contracts to manage $4.8 billion worth of assets from 2005 to 2009. In 2012, Harris secured a $2.8 million settlement from Medco Health Solutions, who had paid Villalobos $4 million to help the company land a pharmacy benefits contract. In 2014, Villalobos and Buenrosto were later indicted in federal court on bribery and corruption charges in connection with an influence operation regarding CalPERS's investment decisions. Buenrosto testified that Villalobos bribed executives, falsified documents, and steered investment deals to private equity firms. Facing up to 30 years in prison, Villalobos committed suicide just a week before he was scheduled to go on trial. Harris later secured a $20 million settlement from Villalobos' bankruptcy estate to settle the bribery allegations.
On January 3, 2011, Harris made history as the first Jamaican-American and Indian-American woman to serve as California Attorney General.
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). In April 2014, Harris' team was honored with the U.S. Department of Justice's Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services. Harris' 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.
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. 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. Harris indicated she was prepared to pull out of the negotiations if the banks weren't willing to increase their offer. In a tense meeting with the five chief counsel of the banks at Debevoise and Plimpton, the general counsel of JP Morgan said to Harris that his parents had voted for her and that constituents back home would be happy with her if she just settled. Harris responded:
In 2012, conversion therapists filed two lawsuits, Pickup v. Brown (12-17681) and Welch v. Brown (13-15023), challenging the constitutionality of S.B. 1172, which banned the practice of therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation on children under the age of 18, effective January 2013. There is no reliable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed and medical institutions warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and harmful. In December 2012, the district court judge hearing Pickup declined to issue an injunction blocking SB 1172, but the judge hearing Welch did issue an injunction. Both cases were appealed to and consolidated in the Ninth Circuit. The court heard oral arguments in the cases on April 17, 2013, and on August 29, upheld S.B. 1172 and reversed the lower court order granting a preliminary injunction. "The plaintiffs asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the Ninth Circuit's decision, but the Court declined to grant certiorari, sending S.B. 1172 into effect. The Court later referenced a specific line of argument in this case relating to the standard of scrutiny that should be afforded to regulations of professional speech.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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 California-Mexico border. The accord called for closer integration on human trafficking investigations between the two offices and sharing best practices for law enforcement to recognize instances of human trafficking and provide support and services to victims. In September 2012, Harris announced that Governor Jerry Brown had signed into law two bills she sponsored to combat human trafficking. A.B. 2466 ensured that criminal defendants involved in human trafficking will not dispose of assets that would otherwise be provided as restitution to victims, while S.B. 1133 expanded the list of assets that a human trafficker must forfeit and provided a formula for using those resources to help victims of human trafficking. 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 increasing involvement of transnational gangs perpetrating the crime through use of technology.
In 2013, Harris declined to file a civil enforcement action against future U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (then a private citizen) and his bank OneWest despite evidence "suggestive of widespread misconduct." While investigators in Harris' office recommended filing an action against the bank, they also noted that such an action would result in OneWest, a federally chartered bank, to assert that the state claims would be pre-empted by federal regulations imposed by the Dodd-Frank Act, triggering prolonged and costly litigation at taxpayer expense. With the law against them and protracted litigation anticipated, Harris exercised prosecutorial discretion by declining to pursue further action. In 2017, she said that her office's decision was based on "following the facts and the evidence...like any other case." Harris' press secretary later noted correctly that the state attorney general's office was also hampered by an inability to issue subpoenas due to OneWest Bank's status as a federally chartered bank. Binding Supreme Court precedent have consistently held that "[...] state laws that conflict with federal law are 'without effect'"
In 2013, Harris filed suit 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. In internal documents, Corinthian described its target demographic as 'isolated,' 'impatient,' individuals with 'low self-esteem,' who have 'few people in their lives who care about them' and who are 'stuck' and 'unable to see and plan well for future." In 2015, Corinthian filed for bankruptcy protection, but Harris obtained a $1.2 billion judgment, with the court ordering Corinthian to pay $820 million in restitution and another $350 million in civil penalties. Evidence obtained by Harris’ office was later used by the U.S. Department of Education as part of a joint investigation which concluded the programs misrepresented their placement rates to enrolled and prospective students. The investigations formed the basis for Education Secretary Arne Duncan to announce expanded debt relief options for defrauded Corinthian students.
In her memoir, The Truths We Hold, Harris recalls working 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. 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. The bill also empowered the California Attorney General to investigate and prosecute financial fraud, to levy civil penalties on fraudulently signed mortgage documents, convene special grand juries and to prosecute multi-county crimes instead of prosecuting a single crime county by county. 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.
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.
On June 27, 2013, 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. The next day, the Ninth Circuit, on remand, dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and dissolved their previous stay of the district court's ruling, enabling Governor Jerry Brown to order same-sex marriages to resume. The same day, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, plaintiffs in the case, married with Harris officiating the ceremony.
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. Building off Back on Track, the division was formed to develop a consistent definition of recidivism, allocate grants for programs, and creating metrics through the use of data. 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 non-serious, non-violent and non-sexual criminal 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. An assessment of the Back on Track LA pilot program by the American Society of Criminology found that graduates showed significantly higher self-esteem and decision-making ability, lower levels of depression, entitlement, criminal rationalization, justification of antisocial behavior, and personal irresponsibility compared to the control group. On balance, the results showed that Back on Track LA was effective in showing significant decrease on general propensity for recidivism.
During Obama's presidency, Harris was mentioned as a possible nominee for U.S. Attorney General. 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. Harris informed Holder if there was 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. Thereafter, Harris publicly stated she was not interested in the job.
Harris' record on capital punishment and 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. However, subsequent review by appellate courts have largely vindicated Harris on both substantive and procedural grounds. For example, 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 in a 29-page order. Harris appealed, contending Judge 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. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Harris when it unanimously overturned Carney’s order.
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. 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. 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.
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, while additional resources were deployed to increase the recruitment and hiring of diverse special agents and trainees.
Harris announced her intention to run for re-election in February 2014 and filed paperwork to run on February 12. The Sacramento Bee, Los Angeles Daily News, and Los Angeles Times endorsed her for reelection.
Harris is married to California attorney Douglas Emhoff, who was at one time partner-in-charge at Venable LLP's Los Angeles office. Emhoff is Jewish. They married on August 22, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California. The couple do not have children together, but Harris is stepmother, "Momala," to Cole and Ella, Emhoff's two children from his previous marriage. The Washington Post reported the 2018 income of Harris and Emhoff as $1.9 million. As of August 2019, Harris and her husband have a net worth of $5.8 million. They own homes in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
On November 4, 2014, Harris was re-elected against Republican Ronald Gold in a landslide, winning 57.5% of the vote to 42.5%.
In 2015, 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. 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. His successor, Republican Todd Spitzer later stated his office willing to undergo federal probation to end the investigation.
In 2015, Harris ordered the arrest of 75 individuals in Merced County and 52 individuals in Tulare County affiliated with the Norteños. Harris' office also broke up a massive identity theft and tax fraud scam perpetrated by an offshoot of the Crips in Long Beach, CA. 22 members of the gang 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.
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. 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. In 2016, Harris, along with various district attorneys, reached an $8.5 million settlement with Wells Fargo over privacy violations that included recording consumers’ phone calls without timely telling consumers they were being recorded.
In 2015, Harris' California Department of Justice was the first statewide agency in the country to require all of its police officers to wear body cameras. Harris said she believed that all officers should wear cameras, but did not believe in imposing statewide standards to regulate the use of body cameras, cautioning against a "one-size-fits-all approach." Harris was later criticized by criminal justice advocates for her measured approach.
In 2015, several purveyors of so-called "revenge porn" sites based in California were arrested, charged with felonies, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. 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. Harris said, "Sitting behind a computer, committing what is essentially a cowardly and criminal act will not shield predators from the law or jail." Harris echoed these words when California Congresswoman Katie Hill was targeted for similar cyber exploitation by her ex-husband and forced to resign in late 2019.
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. California politician statewide declined to run against her, including statewide officials John Chiang, John Garamendi, Bill Lockyer, Gavin Newsom, and Alex Padilla, all of whom decided to run for re-election or another office.
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.
In February 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.
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. 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.
In 2016, Harris announced a $168.5 million settlement with K-12, Inc., an online charter school, over claims it engaged in false advertising and inflated the academic progress of its students. The corporation received more than $310 million in state funding for its profitable but poorly performing online charter schools, which served about 15,000 students. Later that year, working with Assemblyman Mark Leno, Harris supported legislation that limited the punitive use of isolating juveniles in solitary confinement; Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law in September 2016.
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. 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. Ferrer simultaneously pleaded guilty to charges of money laundering and conspiracy to facilitate prostitution in Texas state court and Arizona federal court. Under pressure, Backpage announced that it was removing its adult section from all of its U.S. sites. 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.
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. Later that year, Harris' office coordinated with federal agents in a raid on dozens of businesses in the Los Angeles Fashion District suspected to be operating as part of 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.
In 2016, Harris secured a $15 million settlement for Californians who had invested with Stanley Chais, the West Coast operator of the so-called "feeder funds" which collected money for funds related to the Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
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 an announcement. Over 20,000 people attended her formal campaign launch event in her hometown of Oakland, California on January 27, according to a police estimate.
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. 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 November 8, 2016, she defeated Loretta Sanchez in the 2016 Senate election to succeed Senator Barbara Boxer, becoming California's third female U.S. Senator, and the first of either Jamaican or Indian ancestry.
On June 7, 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.
In November 2017, Harris traveled to Israel and the West Bank, where she met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and spoke with Palestinian students at Al-Quds University in Abu Dis.
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." In July 2018, it was announced that she would publish a memoir, a sign of a possible run. As of that month, she was spending more on Facebook advertising than any other senator. She also stumped for candidates in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina.
Harris, along with colleague Cory Booker, was one of the targets of the October 2018 United States mail bombing attempts.
In December 2018, former Vice President Joe Biden posed for a photo together with Harris in Washington, D.C., sparking speculation about their presidential bids and the possibility of a Biden-Harris ticket. After they launched their campaigns, in May 2019, senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Lacy Clay, Emanuel Cleaver, and Marcia Fudge said that a Biden-Harris ticket would be an ideal combination to defeat Donald Trump. After their dispute in the first presidential debate in June 2019, Biden supporters claimed that the "dream ticket" would never happen.
Harris has written two non-fiction books and one children's book. She also wrote the entry for Christine Blasey Ford when Ford was named one of the Time 100 people in 2019.
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. Thereafter, operator Plains All American Pipeline was indicted on 46 criminal charges related to the spill, with one employee indicted on 3 criminal charges. 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.
In February 2019, the Senate passed a bill introduced by Harris and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham to reauthorize a program to preserve and restore historical buildings and sites on historically black colleges and universities campuses.
On May 1, 2019, Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee one day after it was reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller told Barr his 4-page summary of the Mueller Report failed to "fully capture the findings." During the hearing, Barr remained defiant about the misrepresentations in the four-page summary he released ahead of the full report. First, Harris asked whether Barr had reviewed the underlying evidence before deciding not to charge the President with obstruction of justice, to which Barr admitted that neither he, Rod Rosenstein, nor anyone in his office reviewed the evidence supporting the report before making the charging decision. Harris then asked:
During the first Democratic presidential debate in June 2019, Harris scolded former vice president Joe Biden for "hurtful" remarks he made, speaking fondly of Senators who opposed integration efforts in the 1970s and working with them to oppose mandatory school bussing. 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. Though Gabbard's accusations were widely discredited by fact-checkers in the immediate aftermath, 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 withdrew from seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination, citing a shortage of funds to continue her campaign. In March 2020, Harris endorsed Joe Biden for president.
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 Brett Kavanaugh and to look into whether Kavanaugh committed perjury during his confirmation hearing. 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."
Biden expressed surprise when Harris dropped out of the race on December 3, 2019. The next day he said he would consider Harris as a potential running mate for his presidential campaign, adding that she "has the capacity to be anything she wants to be. She is solid. She can be president someday herself. She can be the vice president. She can go on to be a Supreme Court justice. She can be an attorney general." In January 2020, Biden reiterated that Harris was "qualified to be president" and that he would consider her "for anything she wants, including VP."
She ran as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States in the 2020 election, before ending her campaign on December 3, 2019.
Ahead of the Impeachment trial of Donald Trump on January 16, 2020, Harris delivered remarks on the floor of the Senate, stating her views on the integrity of the American justice system and the principle that nobody is above the law:
In February, Harris pressed Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, Senator Ron Johnson for a public hearing about the coronavirus with public health officials, pointing out that administration officials were unwilling to attend the hearing about protecting the country from the possibility of a pandemic. In March 2020, Harris questioned DHS official Ken Cuccinelli about preparations taken to safeguard vulnerable populations against the coronavirus.
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 an estimated $20,000 in cash. 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 arrests of multiple gang leaders of Nuestra Familia, Norteños, and the Vagos Motorcycle Club, respectively. Law enforcement officers also disrupted operations by seizing vast quantities of methamphetamine, cash, and illegal firearms, including an anti-tank gun and a rocket launcher.
In early 2014, Harris issued a report titled, "Gangs Beyond Borders: California and the Fight Against Transnational Crime." Harris' report shed light on three "pillars," addressing the prominent role of drug, weapons, and human trafficking, money laundering, and technology crimes and offering recommendations for state and local law enforcement to combat the criminal activity. The report also called for increased international partnerships to leverage technology against high-profile organizations, including various drug cartels from Mexico, Armenian Power, 18th Street Gang, and MS-13. 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. 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, held in association with the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Western Attorneys General. Attendees included Attorney General of Mexico Jesus Murillo Karam and Attorney General of El Salvador Luis Martinez. That October, Harris announced the creation of a new anti-methamphetamine task force based in Los Angeles within the California Department of Justice. Later that month, Harris announced the takedown of another gang in Contra Costa County, resulting in the arrest of over 22 individuals, and the seizure of 500 pounds of methamphetamine, valued at $18 million, and over $700,000 in U.S. currency.