While in the Senate, Harris has served as a member of the Judiciary Committee, responsible for vetting candidates for federal judgeships. In 2018, Harris raised questions about the suitability of a candidate based on his membership of the Knights of Columbus.
In December 2018, Harris joined Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in scrutinizing the candidacy of Brian C. Buescher, an Omaha-based lawyer nominated by President Trump to sit on the United States District Court for the District of Nebraska.
The senators asked if belonging to the Catholic charitable organization could prevent judges from hearing cases "fairly and impartially."
In her questions to Buescher, Harris described the Knights as "an all-male society" and asked if Buescher was aware that the Knights of Columbus "opposed a woman's right to choose" and were against "marriage equality" when he joined.
Prior to her election to the Senate in 2016, Harris served as the California attorney general from 2011-2016, and was the San Francisco district attorney from 2004-2011.
While she has cast herself as a "progressive" prosecutor, her tenure as in California has been a source of controversy during her political career on the national level.
Harris had a mixed record on the death penalty in California, and faced criticism for her polices which saw Californians imprisoned for non-violent drug offenses.
Harris came out in support for the legalization of marijuana in 2018. But during a debate in July, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) noted Harris had put "over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations" as attorney general, but laughed while confirming her own use of the drug in an interview.
Gabbard also pointed out that Harris "blocked evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row," referring to inmate Kevin Cooper. Cooper was convicted of a quadruple homicide and sentenced to death in 1983, despite considerable evidence of his innocence. Cooper requested additional DNA testing, which Harris blocked as attorney general.
In 2018, after she was elected to the Senate, she admitted she "felt awful" about her decision. Cooper is still on death row.
While Harris declined to pursue the death penalty on several occasions, in 2014 she explicitly defended the practice after a California district court found it unconstitutional.
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"I am appealing the court's decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants," said Harris, calling the decision a "flawed ruling."
Harris has also pushed for laws that would criminalize the parents of truant children, who are disproportionately poor.
During her inaugural address in 2011, Harris stated that she was "putting parents on notice" that truancy would be dealt with as a crime by parents.
"If you fail in your responsibility to your kids, we are going to work to make sure you face the full force and consequences of the law," she said.
Eight years later, during an interview on a podcast, Harris admitted that several parents were jailed thanks to the statewide anti-truancy law she sponsored, though she said she "regretted" it.
Since entering the Senate, Harris' thinking has shifted, and she now says she supports ending mandatory minimum sentences along with championing other progressive criminal justice reforms.