Maya Lakshmi Harris (born January 30, 1967) is an American lawyer, public policy advocate, and television commentator. She is a political analyst for MSNBC and in 2015 was appointed as one of three senior policy advisors to lead the development of an agenda for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. She was formerly a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. 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 American Civil Liberties Union (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.
She is currently serving as campaign chairwoman for her sister's 2020 campaign for president.
Early life and education
Born in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, Harris grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and Montreal, Quebec. She is the daughter of Shyamala Gopalan Harris (1938–2009), a breast cancer researcher who emigrated from Chennai, India, in 1960, and Donald Harris, a Jamaican Stanford University economics professor. Her maternal grandfather, P.V. Gopalan, was an Indian diplomat. She and her older sister, Kamala, were raised with beliefs from Baptist and Hindu faiths. At the age of 8, with her sister, she persuaded the management of their apartment building to open an unused courtyard as a place for children to play.
Maya gave birth to her daughter at the age of 17. 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.
Following law school, Harris served as a law clerk for United States District Court Judge James Ware in the Northern District of California. In 1994 Harris joined the San Francisco law firm of Jackson Tuffs Cole & Black, LLP, working in civil and criminal litigation. In 1997 the Young Lawyers Division of the National Bar Association honored her with the Junius W. Williams Young Lawyer of the Year Award. The following year, she was named one of the Top 20 Up and Coming Lawyers Under 40 by the San Francisco Daily Journal.
Harris served as a law professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law. She also taught contract law at New College of California School of Law and Lincoln Law School of San Jose.
Harris was a Senior Associate at PolicyLink, a national research and action institute dedicated to advancing economic and social equity. In that capacity, she organized conferences around police-community relations and advocated for police reform, authoring Organized for Change: The Activist's Guide to Police Reform.
Harris served as Executive Director of the Northern California American Civil Liberties Union. In her role as the head of the largest affiliate office of the ACLU, Harris directed and coordinated litigation, media relations, lobbying, and grassroots organizing work. "The Project's priorities are eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system and achieving educational equity in California public schools." In 2003, Harris was the Northern California director for No on 54, the campaign to defeat Proposition 54, which sought to end affirmative action in the state.
Harris authored the essay "Fostering Accountable Community-Centered Policing", which appeared in the 2006 book The Covenant with Black America.
In 2012 Harris was Vice President for Democracy, Rights and Justice at the Ford Foundation. One of the issues she addresses through her position is the problem of child brides.
Harris is married to Tony West. Maya and Tony were both in the class of 1992 at Stanford Law School. Maya and Tony became friends, but did not begin a relationship until after graduation. Her daughter, Meena Harris, graduated from college at Stanford in 2006, before going on to Harvard Law School.