On Monday, the Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden as the nation’s next president and Kamala Harris as the next vice president. Here is what you should know about the person who will be the first woman, first African American, and first Asian American vice president in the history of the United States.
1. Kamala Harris was born in 1964 in Oakland, California. Both of her parents were immigrants who came to the United States to pursue a PhD. Her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was from India and worked as a biomedical researcher on breast cancer. Her father, Donald J. Harris, is originally from Jamaica and taught economics at Stanford University. Her parents divorced when she was 7. In 2014, Harris married Doug Emhoff, a corporate lawyer in Los Angeles, and became a stepmother to Ella and Cole Emhoff.
2. After graduating high school in 1984, Harris attended Howard University, where she earned a degree in political science and economics. She then attended the University of California Hastings College of the Law. After graduation, she took a job as a deputy district attorney in Alameda County, California, working on sex crimes. In 1994, she took a leave of absence to take an appointment on the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later to the California Medical Assistance Commission.
3. From 2004 to 2011, Harris served as district attorney of San Francisco. When she took office, San Francisco County had the highest murder rate (11.1 per 100,000 population) in California. Harris made it a high priority to eliminate a backlog of 73 homicide cases, and by 2006 many of the murderers had been convicted or had reached a plea bargain. The average sentence on the resolved backlogged homicide cases was 24.5 years. In her first two years in office, Harris had an 87 percent conviction rate for homicides and a 90 percent conviction rate for felony gun violations.
4. As district attorney, Harris faced a scandal when a technician mishandled evidence and stole cocaine from the DA’s crime lab. Harris failed to notify defense attorneys, resulting in about a thousand drug-related cases having to be thrown out. She was also criticized for not proactively assisting in civil cases against Catholic clergy sex abuse. Although she specialized in prosecuting sex crimes and child exploitation, investigations by The Intercept and the Associated Press found Harris was “consistently silent on the Catholic Church’s abuse scandal—first as San Francisco district attorney and later as California’s attorney general.” According to Yonat Shimron of Religion News Service, “Survivors of sex abuse at the hands of priests say she resisted informal requests to help them with their cases and refused to release church records on abusive priests that had been gathered by her predecessor, Terence Hallinan.”
5. Harris was elected as attorney general of California in 2010 and served until 2017. During her tenure her office searched the apartment of pro-life activist David Daleiden and seized the hidden-camera videos that showed Planned Parenthood doctors selling fetal tissue. (In May 2020, Daleiden sued Harris, alleging that she conspired to violate his civil rights through a purportedly bogus prosecution.) She also arrested Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer on felony charges of pimping a minor, pimping, and conspiracy to commit pimping. As a result of the prosecution, Ferrer pled guilty to charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, acknowledging that “the great majority” of the adult advertisements on Backpage were actually advertisements for prostitution. As part of his plea agreement Ferrer agreed to shut down the site and give its data to law enforcement.
6. Harris was elected as a U.S. senator from California in 2016. Harris served as a member of the Committee on the Budget, the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, the Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Committee on the Judiciary. As a senator, Harris co-sponsored a congressional bill to weaken the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
7. During her time in the Senate, Harris co-sponsored two abortion bills, the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would would establish “federal statutory rights for providers to provide and patients to receive abortion care free from medically unnecessary restrictions and bans,” and the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which would bar states from introducing private abortion-coverage bans. While running for the presidential nomination in 2019, Harris proposed a plan, modeled on the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that would require states that tend to restrict abortion to obtain preclearance by the Department of Justice before enforcing laws affecting access to the procedure. She’s also said she wants to codify access to abortion in federal law in case Roe v. Wade is overturned.
8. On homosexual and transgender issues, Harris will be the most radical vice president in American history. While serving as attorney general she declined to defend Proposition 8, the state’s ban on same-sex marriage. As a senator, she was also a staunch supporter of LGBTQ legislation. During her Democratic primary campaign, she promised to appoint a White House chief advocate for LGBTQ affairs “to ensure that LGBTQ+ Americans are represented in hiring and policy priorities across the government.” She also supports ending the transgender military ban and eliminating religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.
9. As a child, Harris went to both a Baptist church and a Hindu temple. She now considers herself a Black Baptist and is a member of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, a congregation of the mainline denomination American Baptist Churches USA. (Her husband is Jewish, making him the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president.) Harris says her favorite Bible verse is, “‘We walk by faith and not by sight,’ from the Second Letter to the Corinthians.”