Kamala Harris says that she takes “full responsibility” for writing legal briefs opposing multiple incarcerated trans women’s court-ordered surgeries when she was the attorney general of California.
In a news conference hosted at Howard University — Harris’ first since announcing her intention to seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 — Washington Blade reporter Chris Johnson asked Harris how she would address concerns about seeking to deny surgery for trans prisoners. While defending her actions as a matter of obligation, Harris suggested that she privately disagreed with what her office required of her and said that she takes “full responsibility” for the legal briefs in question.
“So I was, as you are rightly pointing out, the attorney general of California for two terms and I had a host of clients that I was obligated to defend and represent and I couldn’t fire my clients, and there are unfortunately situations that occurred where my clients took positions that were contrary to my beliefs. And it was an office with a lot of people who would do the work on a daily basis, and do I wish that sometimes they would have personally consulted me before they wrote the things that they wrote? Yes, I do. But the bottom line is the buck stops with me, and I take full responsibility for what my office did,” said Harris.
The Blade followed up by asking Harris if she thinks that trans inmates should receive state-funded surgery in general. (Advocates argue that the denial of these procedures amounts to cruel and unusual punishment — a violation of those prisoners’ constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment.) The senator’s response was vague, barely answering the question at all.
“I believe that we are at a point where we have got to stop vilifying people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and we’ve got to understand that when we are talking about a particular transgender community, for too long they have been the subject of bias, and frankly, a lack of understanding about their circumstance and their physical needs in addition to any other needs they have, and it’s about time that we have a better understanding of that,” said Harris.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who is also seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, very recently came out in full support of state-funded gender-affirming surgeries for incarcerated trans people, though it should be noted that she vocally opposed the matter while running for Senator in 2012. “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars,” she said at the time.