Kamala Devi Harris (born October 20, 1964) is an American politician, lawyer, and the United States vice-president-elect.
She will take office alongside President-elect (and former Vice President) Joe Biden on January 20, 2021, as a member of the Democratic Party, having defeated incumbent President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the 2020 presidential election. Since 2017, Harris has served as California’s junior United States senator.
Born in Oakland, California, Harris graduated from Hastings College of Law at Howard University and the University of California. Before being recruited to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office and later to the City Attorney’s office of San Francisco, she started her career in the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office.
She was elected San Francisco district attorney in 2003. In 2010, she was elected California Attorney General and was re-elected in 2014.
In the 2016 Senate race, she beat Loretta Sanchez to become the second African American woman and the first South Asian American to serve in the Senate of the United States.
She has championed health reform, federal cannabis de-scheduling, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the DREAM Act, a ban on assault weapons, and comprehensive tax reform as a senator.
Before finishing her campaign on December 3, 2019, Harris ran for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and gained national attention.] She was confirmed as the running mate of former vice president Joe Biden in the 2020 election on August 11, 2020. The race was called in favor of the Biden-Harris ticket on November 7, 2020. Following Charles Curtis, she will be the second vice president with substantial non-European ancestry. She will also be the first African American in the history of the United States, the first Asian American, and the first female vice president.
Early life and education (1964–1990)
Harris was born in Oakland, California, on October 20, 1964. In 1958, as a 19-year-old graduate student in nutrition and endocrinology at the University of California, Berkeley, her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a biologist whose work on the progesterone receptor gene stimulated work in breast cancer research, had arrived in the United States from Tamil Nadu in India; Gopalan earned her Ph.D. in 1964.
Her father, Donald J. Harris, is an emeritus professor of economics at Stanford University, who arrived from British Jamaica in the U.S. in 1961 for graduate studies at UC Berkeley, earning a Ph.D. in economics in 1966.
Harris lived in Berkeley, California, along with her younger sister, Maya, briefly on Milvia Street in central Berkeley, then a duplex on West Berkeley’s Bancroft Way, a region also called “the flatlands” with a large Black population.
When Harris started kindergarten, she was bused to Thousand Oaks Elementary School as part of Berkeley’s comprehensive desegregation initiative, a public school in a more affluent community in northern Berkeley that had historically been 95 percent white, and became 40 percent black after the desegregation plan came into effect.
The Harris girls were frequently taken to an African American church in Oakland by a friend, where they sang in the children’s choir. They were introduced to Hindu mythology by their mother and brought to a nearby Hindu temple, where she sang sometimes.
She and her sister, as children, visited their mother’s family many times in Madras (now Chennai). She says that her maternal grandfather, P, greatly influenced her. She was impressed by V. Gopalan, a former Indian civil servant whose progressive views on democracy and women’s rights.
Harris has kept in contact with her Indian aunts and uncles throughout her adult life. In Jamaica, Harris also visited her father’s relatives.
When she was seven, her parents divorced. She said the other kids in the neighborhood were not allowed to play with them when she and her sister visited their father in Palo Alto on weekends, because they were black.
Harris and her sister moved to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, when she was twelve, with their mother, where Shyamala had accepted a research and teaching position at the Jewish General Hospital affiliated with McGill University. Harris attended Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a French-speaking elementary school, and then Westmount High School in Westmount, Quebec, graduating in 1981.
After high school, Harris attended Howard University, a historically black university in Washington, D.C. While at Howard, she interned as a mailroom clerk for California senator Alan Cranston, chaired the economics society, led the debate team, and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Harris graduated from Howard in 1986 with a degree in political science and economics.
Harris then returned to California to attend law school at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law through its Legal Education Opportunity Program (LEOP). While at UC Hastings, she served as president of its chapter of the Black Law Students Association. She graduated with a Juris Doctor in 1989 and was admitted to the California Bar in June 1990.
Early career (1990–2004)
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”. In 1994, California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who was dating Harris at the time, appointed her to the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and later to the California Medical Assistance Commission. Harris took a six-month leave of absence in 1994 from her duties as a prosecutor, then afterward resumed as a prosecutor during the years she sat on the boards. Harris’s connection to Brown was noted in media reportage as part of a pattern of Californian political leaders appointing “friends and loyal political soldiers” to lucrative positions on the commissions. Harris has defended her work.
In February 1998, San Francisco district attorney Terence Hallinan recruited Harris as an assistant district attorney. There, 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. In 2000, Harris reportedly clashed with Hallinan’s assistant, Darrell Salomon, over Proposition 21 (“Prop 21”, which would have granted prosecutors the option of trying juvenile defendants in Superior Court rather than juvenile courts. Harris campaigned against the measure and Salomon opposed directing media inquiries about Prop 21 to Harris and reassigned her, a de facto demotion. Harris filed a complaint against Salomon and quit.
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. Renne endorsed Harris during her D.A. campaign.
In 2002, Harris prepared to run for District Attorney of San Francisco against Hallinan (the incumbent) and Bill Fazio. Harris was the least-known of the three candidates but persuaded the Central Committee to withhold its endorsement from Hallinan. Harris and Hallinan advanced to the general election runoff with 33 and 37 percent of the vote, respectively.
In the runoff, Harris pledged never to seek the death penalty and to prosecute three-strike offenders only in cases of violent felonies. Harris ran a “forceful” campaign, assisted by former mayor Willie Brown, Senator Dianne Feinstein, writer and cartoonist Aaron McGruder, and comedians Eddie Griffin and Chris Rock. Harris differentiated herself from Hallinan by attacking his performance.] She argued that she left his office because it was technologically inept, emphasizing his 52 percent conviction rate for serious crimes despite an 83 percent average conviction rate statewide. Harris charged that his office was not doing enough to stem the city’s gun violence, particularly in poor neighborhoods like Bayview and the Tenderloin, and attacked his willingness to accept plea bargains in cases of domestic violence. Harris won with 56 percent of the vote, becoming the first person of color elected as district attorney of San Francisco.
Personal life, Husband, Net Worth
Harris married attorney Douglas Emhoff, who was at one time partner-in-charge at Venable LLP’s Los Angeles office, on August 22, 2014, in Santa Barbara, California. Harris is a stepmother to Emhoff’s two children from his previous marriage to Kerstin Emhoff. As of August 2019, Harris and her husband had an estimated net worth of $5.8 million. She is a Baptist, member of Third Baptist Church of San Francisco, a congregation of the American Baptist Churches USA.
Harris’s sister, Maya Harris, is a lawyer and MSNBC political analyst; her brother-in-law, Tony West, is the general counsel of Uber and a former United States Department of Justice senior official. Her niece, Meena Harris, is the founder of the Phenomenal Women Action Campaign and former head of strategy and leadership at Uber.