Maya Harris

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Maya Harris

Maya L. Harris (born in 1967) is an American lawyer and public policy advocate. She was appointed to be one of three senior policy advisers to lead the development of an agenda for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.[1] She was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.[2] From 2008 until she took her current position, she was Vice President for Democracy, Rights and Justice at the Ford Foundation. Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, she served as the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. Before joining the ACLU, the former law school dean (Lincoln Law School of San Jose) was a Senior Associate at PolicyLink. She has authored two publications which include a report highlighting community-centered policing practices nationwide and an advocacy manual for police reform.

Harris is married to Tony West. The two met while studying at Stanford Law.[3]

Her older sister, Kamala Harris, is the Attorney General of California

"Social Justice ally"

Just before the 2016 election Steve Phillips said that Maya Harris would be a "social justice ally" in Hillary Clinton's White house.[4]

Black Lives Matter

In her book published after the 2016 election titled "What Happened", Hillary Clinton described meeting with Black Lives Matter activists, and her request to Maya Harris to "work closely" with them.[5]

"I took seriously the policies some of the Black Lives Matter activists later put forward to reform the criminal justice system and invest in communities of color. I asked Maya and our team to work closely with them. We incorporated the best of their ideas into our plans, along with input from civil rights organizations that had been in the trenches for decades."

Early life, education

Born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Harris grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. When she was eight, she and her sister worked to get the apartment building they lived in to open an unused courtyard as a place for children to play. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1989. That year, she enrolled in Stanford Law School. While at Stanford, she was active with the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, serving as Co-Coordinator of the Domestic Violence Clinic and Co-Chair of the Student Steering Committee.[6]

Rodney King protest

In the first full day of activity following the acquittals in the Rodney King beating case, students rallied at the Law School, petitioned in White Plaza and planned future actions to promote civil rights, including a rally today. News of the hastily organized Law School rally spread by word of mouth. One organizer, Maya Harris, said the only preparation for the spontaneous rally was getting a microphone. "There was a large number of people, much more than we expected," law student Michelle Alexander said. At the rally, Harris said, "We have to all wake up, stay awake, get up next morning and the morning after and face reality .... We won't let tomorrow go by without doing something."

During the rally, petitions were circulated in White Plaza as one facet of the organized campus protest movement. Graduate student Anthony Clark said petitions would be circulated "as long as it takes," adding that more than 2,000 signatures had been gathered in less than 24 hours. However, not everyone was ready to sign their name. Graduate student John Hornbrook said he felt the students were "attacking innocent people walking by." He said he did not know enough about the situation to judge whether the verdict was supported by evidence other than the videotape, and therefore would not sign a petition. Hornbrook's refusal drew response from students standing nearby. "I don't think kicking and beating a man with bully clubs is ever justified. That's why I have a problem with you," junior Tanya Van Court told Hornbrook. Freshman Jomo Graham, one of the leaders of a campus letterwriting campaign, called on students to send individual letters to prominent politicians as well as sign petitions, and bought an advertisement in The Daily to print a model letter. Multicultural educator Greg Ricks, an adviser to the loose organization of student leaders, said students should "take time and think about what's going on" by writing a letter. In a late-night organizational meeting held in the Lagunita dining hall, at least 200 students, faculty and staff planned today's rally and further actions.

The rally, which had originally been scheduled for White Plaza, was moved to the courtyard between the Law School and Meyer library because it conflicted with the Spring Faire, according to sophomore organizer Tracy Clay. 'This is not a black thing. It is a coalition which is not limited by race, gender or politics.

At the meeting, some students advocated civil disobedience, and leaders hinted at agreement. When a community member said students should block local streets, Clay suggested everyone wear "comfortable clothing and walking shoes" to the rally. When the same person asked "to what end are we wearing these walking shoes," Clay replied that the organizers have a plan but are "not capable of sharing it right now."

Ujamaa Resident Assistant Bacardi Jackson said members of the coalition contacted groups at other schools for the rally. Clay said the rally would begin with a singing of the Black National Anthem and a series of student speakers on the history of law and the civil rights movement. In addition, many community leaders from Stanford and the Bay Area will speak. Stanford speakers include Tony Burciaga, a resident fellow at Casa Zapata, Keith Archuleta, the director of the Black Community Services Center, Mary Edmonds, the vice president for student resources, and Ricks, according to Clay. Dressed in black and holding up two red candles, graduate student Francisca James-Hernandez said at the meeting that she is "ready to do something." Many students wore black as a "symbol of mourning for justice" in America, Clay said. Senior Alma Medena, the co- chair of MEChA, a Chicano/Latino student group, said people should also wear black to mourn those killed in Los Angeles in the violent aftermath of the verdict.

Clay and Jackson emphasized that activities against the Kingbeating verdict have had racially diverse participants. "This is not a black thing. It is a coalition which is not limited by race, gender or politics," Ricks said. There has also been a "strong reaction by faculty," he said, adding that Political Science Prof. Lucius Barker and Latin American Studies Prof. Terry Karl have organized a meeting for faculty response today (see related story, page 3). Other events currently being planned include a discussion with Janet Wells, the president of the Palo Alto chapter of the NAACP, and Stanford Police Chief Marvin Herrington on Sunday; a meeting with black community leaders of East Palo Alto on Tuesday; a teach-in on Wednesday; and a Mother's Day vigil organized in conjunction with groups from other campuses, according to Jackson. [7]

Legal activism

"Service is the rent we pay for living on this earth," said Maya Harris, director of the Racial Justice Project at the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union during her speech April 19 2005.. Part of the Stanford Black Pre-law Society's speaker series, the talk focused on 1 larris's career path with emphasis on her current work in public interest law. After graduating from Stanford Law School in 1992,1 larris worked as a corporate litigator for several years, during which making money to support her family and pay off her student loans was her chief priority. Though she said that she learned a great deal from working in the corporate sector, she found it difficult to be passionate about her work and the clients she represented. It was "just a job." she said. Harris said she made the transition to public interest law because "that's why I went to law school here in the first place." Before joining the ACLU, she served as dean of Lincoln Law School in San Jose at age 29, and was perhaps the youngest law school dean in the country, she said. "It is not always easy to make the transition from a corporate law firm to public interest law," Harris said, adding that her own transition was made easier by the numerous connections she had made within the field at Stanford.

In this vein, Harris said that every opportunity she has had "was a door that had been opened by a relationship I built in the first five years of law school." In a way. her job at the ACLU was made possible by one such contact, Angela Glover Blackwell, an advisory council member at Boalt Law School at UC-Berkeley. who presented Harris with the opportunity. Harris said that Blackwell has been one of her most important role models during her law career. "One thing as a young woman of color is that you do not meet a lot of mentors who look like you," she said. At the ACLU, Harris has tackled various issues related to discrimination, including racial profiling, the elimination of racial justice disparities in the criminal justice system and educational equity in California public schools. "The racial disparities in the criminal justice system are due to racial bias in the criminal justice system." she said. Harris has also worked to abolish California's "three strikes" law and has campaigned against California Prop. 54. which would allow California public agencies to obtain information on race, ethnicity and national origin. Harris explained the difference between front-end and back-end spending, a major component of her work at the ACLU. Front-end spending, she said, refers to the funds the state pours into public education, whereas back-end spending refers to the money the state puts into incarceration. For African-Americans, state spending tends to overwhelmingly favor the back end. Harris said, a trend that she hopes to reverse.

On the other, others cannot understand how the ACLU can take part in litigation to defend the Ku Klux Klan's right to free speech. "There is a challenge to balance the reactive work with the proactive work that we do," Harris said, adding that despite the more mundane tasks of reading and responding to e-mail, she loves her current work. "I am daily connected to people whose lives I am actively working to improve. That's what I find the most satisfying."[8]


In 2003 Maya Harris, was director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU's Northern California chapter. [9]

BLSA events

On February 21-22, 2014, Stanford’s Black Law Student’s Association (BLSA) celebrated Black History Month by holding two events on campus honoring and celebrating champions of racial justice.

“The Next 50 Years of Civil Rights & Racial Justice” gala on February 21st, featured Maya Harris, JD ’92, a Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress and Tony West, JD ’92, Associate Attorney General as keynote speakers.

“BLSA Presents: A Conversation with Senator Cory Booker” on February 22, welcomed Booker '91 back to campus for an intimate discussion with Professor David Mills on civil rights and racial justice.[10]

Unity Reform Commission

In 2017 the Democratic National Committee's 21-member Unity Reform Commission included nine members selected by Hillary Clinton, seven members picked by Bernie Sanders, three picked by Thomas Perez, and the chair and vice chair ― selected by Clinton and Sanders, respectively.

Rep. Maya Harris, New York, former senior policy adviser, Clinton campaign.[11]


  1. [ Nather, David (April 14, 2015). "Hillary Clinton names top three wonks for campaign". Politico.]
  2. [Horwitz, Sari (September 3, 2014). "Tony West, third-ranking official at Justice Department, to step down". The Washington Post.]
  3. [ Driscoll, Sharon (May 17, 2010). "Tony and Maya: Partners in Public Service". Stanford Lawyer.]
  4. Democracy in Color, S1E14 Senator Cory Booker: Making Our Future This Election
  5. What Happened? accessed July 13 2019
  6. ["Officially Speaking". Student Lawyer. Law Student Division, American Bar Association. 27 (2). December 1998.]
  7. [The Stanford Daily, 1 May 1992]
  8. [The Stanford Daily, 20 April 2005]
  9. [1]
  10. [2]
  11. HuffPo Daniel Marans, 04/17/2017 03:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2017