President-elect Joe Biden announced Jan. 7, 2021, the nomination of an Indian-American civil rights leader to the third highest position in the Justice Department.
Vanita Gupta, who has been the president and CEO of The Leadership Conference of Civil and Human Rights, the largest civil rights organization in the country, was nominated by Biden as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Department.
Biden announced his nominees for the top four posts in the Justice Department, Judge Merrick Garland as Attorney General, Lisa Monaco for Deputy Attorney General, Gupta for Associate AG, and Kristen Clarke as Assistant AG for the Civil Rights Division, the last being a position that Gupta held during the Obama administration.
“Our first-rate nominees to lead the Justice Department are eminently qualified, embody character and judgment that is beyond reproach, and have devoted their careers to serving the American people with honor and integrity,” Biden said, adding, “They will restore the independence of the Department so it serves the interests of the people not a presidency, rebuild public trust in the rule of law, and work tirelessly to ensure a more fair and equitable justice system.”
Considered “one of the best-known and most respected civil rights attorneys in the country, Gupta has spent her career fighting successfully for greater equity in our justice system and advancing the rights and dignity of every American,” the Biden official release said.
Introducing Gupta as the daughter of immigrants from India, Biden noted her accomplishments specially her work as head of the Civil Rights Division when she investigated police departments for their conduct.
Gupta becomes the first woman of color to serve in this role if she is cleared by the U.S. Senate after hearings held following Biden taking over the helm Jan. 20. With a Democratic Senate majority, her appointment should not face hurdles.
“Vanita Gupta has dedicated her career to protecting and advancing democracy and the civil rights of all Americans,” Biden said.
From October 2014 to January 2017, Gupta served as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States.
“In this role, Gupta led critical efforts to reform our criminal justice system, including investigating the Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago police departments, prosecuting hate crimes, protecting disability and LGBTQ+ rights, voting rights, and fighting discrimination in education, housing, lending, and employment,” Biden said.
Prior to her time in the Justice Department, Gupta was a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, ultimately becoming the Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice.
While at the ACLU, Gupta led the Smart Justice Campaign aimed at ending mass incarceration.
She started her legal career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, where she successfully led the effort to overturn the wrongful drug convictions of more than 35 African-American individuals in Tulia, Texas, who were ultimately pardoned by then-Governor Rick Perry.
Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law.
Biden recognized Gupta’s success as a consensus builder on tough issues, with years of experience managing complex settlements and advocacy experience.