Person

Vanita Gupta

Portrait of Vanita Gupta in foreground; US flag in background (link)
Occupation:

Left-Wing Activist Lawyer

Former Associate Attorney General, Biden Administration

Contact InfluenceWatch with suggested edits or tips for additional profiles.

Vanita Gupta is a civil rights attorney, government official, and nonprofit executive. She served as associate attorney general in the Biden Administration from 2021 to 2024, and before that was president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR).1 She was appointed to lead the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama. She previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. 2

Gupta is a proponent of left-of-center criminal justice policy. She is critical of strict drug policy, the prison system, mandatory minimum sentencing, civil asset forfeiture, and police militarization. She also supports marijuana legalization. 3

Gupta is married to Chinh Q. Le, the legal director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia.

Early Life and Education

Vanita Gupta was born in Philadelphia to Indian immigrant parents. As a child, she was accosted by a group of skinheads while out for dinner with her family. 4 Gupta attended Yale University where she graduated summa cum laude. She attended the New York University School of Law for her law degree. 5 Gupta co-taught NYU Law’s Racial Justice Clinic, and in fall 2020, she became a member of NYU Law’s board of trustees. 6

In 2001, after graduating from the New York University School of Law, Gupta began working at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. At 26, Gupta embarked on her first major case by investigating a massive 1999 drug raid in Tulia, Texas, in which 46 suspects, including about 10% of the small town’s black population, were arrested and given unusually long sentences, topping out at 300 years. Gupta raised attention about possible prosecutorial misconduct, and “60 Minutes” ran a story on the incident. After then-Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) pardoned most of the defendants, Gupta helped them sue the federal government for $5 million in damages, resulting in the disbandment of the federal task force which made the arrests. 7

In 2006, Gupta became a staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Racial Justice Program, and director of its Campaign to End Mass Incarceration. 8 In 2007, Gupta settled a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for holding immigrant children in unsatisfactory conditions at the T. Don Hutton detention center in Taylor, Texas. All children held by the facility were released, and the facility is no longer used for immigrant detention. 9

In 2017, Gupta became the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), succeeding Wade Henderson, who led the organization for 21 years. 10 She remained in that position until her nomination as associate attorney general in the Biden Administration in 2021.11

Political Appointments

In October 2014, then-President Barack Obama appointed Gupta to lead the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice under former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. She was President Obama’s second choice after the U.S. Senate blocked Debo Adegbile’s nomination. 12

Holder described the Civil Rights Division as the “crown jewel” of the Department of Justice. Gupta was appointed in the middle of a wave of national controversy concerning police shootings of African American suspects and played an active role in the federal government’s response. 13

In 2015, Gupta oversaw the federal report on the conduct of the Ferguson Police Department following the police shooting of Michael Brown and ensuing civil unrest. The report alleged a culture of racism and exploitation in the department, claiming that police aggressively pursued fines and asset forfeiture as a means of raising revenue. Gupta later led investigations into police departments in Baltimore and Chicago, heard appeals on voter identification laws in Texas and North Carolina, and wrote a federal condemnation of solitary confinement in her role at the DOJ. 1415

In 2016, Gupta led a lawsuit against the North Carolina state government after the passage of House Bill 2 (HB2), which forced public buildings to only permit individuals to use gendered bathrooms according to the sex listed on their birth certificate. The complaint alleged that HB2 discriminated against transgender individuals. 16

Gupta left the Department of Justice in January 2017 at the conclusion of the Obama administration’s mandate. 17

Biden Administration

In January 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Gupta as Associate Attorney General, the third-highest post in the DOJ. 18 She stepped down from her position and left the administration in early 2024.19

Gupta was narrowly confirmed by the Senate in a 51-49 vote, and her nomination was controversial. Republicans criticized her past partisan rhetoric, which Gupta admitted that she regretted, as well as positions she had previously espoused on decreasing police budgets and drug decriminalization.20 In 2012, Gupta co-authored an article in which she argued that “States should decriminalize simple possession of all drugs, particularly marijuana, and for small amounts of other drugs,”21 though she has stated that she no longer supports this position.22 Gupta was also questioned about written testimony she submitted to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in June 2020, in her capacity as head of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in which she wrote that “it is also critical for state and local leaders to heed calls from Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists to decrease police budgets and the scope, role, and responsibility of police in our lives.”23 Observers also commented on Gupta’s wealth, noting that her financial disclosures revealed assets of between $42 million and $187 million, which would make her among the wealthiest members of the Biden Administration.24

In July 2022, Gupta was appointed to chair a newly established Reproductive Rights Task Force at the Department of Justice.25 The Washington Free Beacon subsequently reported that in 2020, while President & CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Gupta had written a letter opposing the confirmation of David Dugan to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. In the letter, she quoted the pro-abortion access group NARAL Pro-Choice America in referring to crisis pregnancy centers as “fake health-care clinics that lie to, shame and intentionally mislead women about their reproductive-health-care options to block them from accessing abortion care.” The Beacon noted that crisis pregnancy centers help counsel pregnant women on available alternatives to abortion, and dozens had been attacked or vandalized in the months prior to Gupta’s appointment to the Reproductive Rights Task Force.26 27

Controversies

Molly Ball’s Time Article on November 2019 Tech Giant Meeting

In February 2021, Time author Molly Ball released an article titled, “The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election” in which she discussed, “…the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election.” 28 The article goes into detail on how, along with Gupta and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, nine civil rights leaders were invited in November 2019 to the residence of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to discuss with him, “the danger of the election-related falsehoods that were already spreading unchecked.” 29 30 Gupta is quoted in Bell’s article by stating:

“It took pushing, urging, conversations, brainstorming, all of that to get to a place where we ended up with more rigorous rules and enforcement…It was a struggle, but we got to the point where they understood the problem. Was it enough? Probably not. Was it later than we wanted? Yes. But it was really important, given the level of official disinformation, that they had those rules in place and were tagging things and taking them down.” 31 32

References

  1. “Former Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.” Department of Justice. Accessed April 30, 2024. Available at: https://www.justice.gov/archives/asg/staff-profile/former-associate-attorney-general-vanita-gupta
  2. “ACLU Urges Congress to End Policy of Detaining Immigrant Children.” ACLU. August 27, 2007. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/landmark-settlement-announced-federal-lawsuit-challenging-conditions-immigrant.
  3. Reilly, Ryan J. “Vanita Gupta Is Setting The Tone for Obama’s Civil Rights Division.” Huffington Post. May 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanita-gupta-doj-civil-rights-division_n_7190982?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVwcmludC5pbi8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADuvHPeMy1t2XO1RlLM1Jk8r42V-63jdYib5a1Z0qLePxYUr7Qbt2DAt5IjHiLZ0Qa1w5CueCoqpcWNF5LNovN95NzWNG3-7aC_zMI00Io-ZvyNv6z6_CK6tOngBVcH3JmEMpYKwmrjXii6PrVUUtEY0bAGUnH7X9G0p5sywOxSC.
  4. “Joe Biden praises Vanita Gupta, says she is ‘proud daughter’ of immigrants from India.” The Economic Times. January 8, 2021. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/migrate/joe-biden-praises-vanita-gupta-says-she-is-proud-daughter-of-immigrants-from-india/articleshow/80165981.cms.
  5. “Former Head of the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta.” The United States Department of Justice. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.justice.gov/archives/crt/staff-profile/former-head-civil-rights-division-vanita-gupta.
  6. “Biden announces he will nominate Lisa Monaco and Vanita Gupta ’01 for top Justice Department post.” NYU Law. January 7, 2021. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.law.nyu.edu/news/department-justice-biden-lisa-monaco-vanita-gupta.
  7. Reilly, Ryan J. “Vanita Gupta Is Setting The Tone for Obama’s Civil Rights Division.” Huffington Post. May 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanita-gupta-doj-civil-rights-division_n_7190982?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVwcmludC5pbi8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADuvHPeMy1t2XO1RlLM1Jk8r42V-63jdYib5a1Z0qLePxYUr7Qbt2DAt5IjHiLZ0Qa1w5CueCoqpcWNF5LNovN95NzWNG3-7aC_zMI00Io-ZvyNv6z6_CK6tOngBVcH3JmEMpYKwmrjXii6PrVUUtEY0bAGUnH7X9G0p5sywOxSC.
  8. Reilly, Ryan J. “Vanita Gupta Is Setting The Tone for Obama’s Civil Rights Division.” Huffington Post. May 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanita-gupta-doj-civil-rights-division_n_7190982?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVwcmludC5pbi8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADuvHPeMy1t2XO1RlLM1Jk8r42V-63jdYib5a1Z0qLePxYUr7Qbt2DAt5IjHiLZ0Qa1w5CueCoqpcWNF5LNovN95NzWNG3-7aC_zMI00Io-ZvyNv6z6_CK6tOngBVcH3JmEMpYKwmrjXii6PrVUUtEY0bAGUnH7X9G0p5sywOxSC.
  9. “ACLU Urges Congress to End Policy of Detaining Immigrant Children.” ACLU. August 27, 2007. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/landmark-settlement-announced-federal-lawsuit-challenging-conditions-immigrant.
  10. “Leadership Conference Announced Vanita Gupta as New President and CEO.” Leadership Conference Education Fund. March 23, 2017. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://civilrights.org/edfund/resource/leadership-conference-announces-vanita-gupta-new-president-ceo/#:~:text=Leadership%20Conference%20Announces%20Vanita%20Gupta%20as%20New%20President%20and%20CEO,-Civil%20and%20Human&text=Our%20sister%20organization%2C%20The%20Leadership,the%20leadership%20of%20both%20organizations.
  11. “Former Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.” U.S. Department of Justice. Accessed April 30, 2024. Available at: https://www.justice.gov/archives/asg/staff-profile/former-associate-attorney-general-vanita-gupta
  12. Reilly, Ryan J. “Vanita Gupta Is Setting The Tone for Obama’s Civil Rights Division.” Huffington Post. May 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanita-gupta-doj-civil-rights-division_n_7190982?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVwcmludC5pbi8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADuvHPeMy1t2XO1RlLM1Jk8r42V-63jdYib5a1Z0qLePxYUr7Qbt2DAt5IjHiLZ0Qa1w5CueCoqpcWNF5LNovN95NzWNG3-7aC_zMI00Io-ZvyNv6z6_CK6tOngBVcH3JmEMpYKwmrjXii6PrVUUtEY0bAGUnH7X9G0p5sywOxSC.
  13. Reilly, Ryan J. “Vanita Gupta Is Setting The Tone for Obama’s Civil Rights Division.” Huffington Post. May 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanita-gupta-doj-civil-rights-division_n_7190982?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVwcmludC5pbi8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADuvHPeMy1t2XO1RlLM1Jk8r42V-63jdYib5a1Z0qLePxYUr7Qbt2DAt5IjHiLZ0Qa1w5CueCoqpcWNF5LNovN95NzWNG3-7aC_zMI00Io-ZvyNv6z6_CK6tOngBVcH3JmEMpYKwmrjXii6PrVUUtEY0bAGUnH7X9G0p5sywOxSC.
  14. Reilly, Ryan J. “Vanita Gupta Is Setting The Tone for Obama’s Civil Rights Division.” Huffington Post. May 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/vanita-gupta-doj-civil-rights-division_n_7190982?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVwcmludC5pbi8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAADuvHPeMy1t2XO1RlLM1Jk8r42V-63jdYib5a1Z0qLePxYUr7Qbt2DAt5IjHiLZ0Qa1w5CueCoqpcWNF5LNovN95NzWNG3-7aC_zMI00Io-ZvyNv6z6_CK6tOngBVcH3JmEMpYKwmrjXii6PrVUUtEY0bAGUnH7X9G0p5sywOxSC.
  15. “Leadership Conference Announced Vanita Gupta as New President and CEO.” Leadership Conference Education Fund. March 23, 2017. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://civilrights.org/edfund/resource/leadership-conference-announces-vanita-gupta-new-president-ceo/#:~:text=Leadership%20Conference%20Announces%20Vanita%20Gupta%20as%20New%20President%20and%20CEO,-Civil%20and%20Human&text=Our%20sister%20organization%2C%20The%20Leadership,the%20leadership%20of%20both%20organizations.
  16. “Justice Department Files Complaint Against the State of North Carolina to Stop Discrimination Against Transgender Individuals.” United States Department of Justice. May 9, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-files-complaint-against-state-north-carolina-stop-discrimination-against.
  17. “Leadership Conference Announced Vanita Gupta as New President and CEO.” Leadership Conference Education Fund. March 23, 2017. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://civilrights.org/edfund/resource/leadership-conference-announces-vanita-gupta-new-president-ceo/#:~:text=Leadership%20Conference%20Announces%20Vanita%20Gupta%20as%20New%20President%20and%20CEO,-Civil%20and%20Human&text=Our%20sister%20organization%2C%20The%20Leadership,the%20leadership%20of%20both%20organizations.
  18. Krishnan, Revathi. “Vanita Gupta – 2nd generation Indian American is Biden’s associate attorney general pick.” The Print. January 8, 2021. Accessed February 10, 2021. https://theprint.in/world/vanita-gupta-2nd-generation-indian-american-is-bidens-associate-attorney-general-pick/582029/.
  19. Carrie Johnson. “As She Leaves DOJ, Associate AG Recalls the Cases That Will ‘Stick With Me Forever.'” NPR. January 31, 2024. Available at: https://www.npr.org/2024/01/31/1227942534/vanita-gupta-doj
  20. Ronn Blitzer and Marisa Schultz. “Senate Confirms Vanita Gupta for No. 3 Spot at Justice Department in Narrow Vote.” Fox News. April 21, 2021. Available at: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/senate-confirms-biden-doj-nominee-vanita-gupta
  21. Vanita Gupta and Ezekiel Edwards. “It’s Time to Discuss Criminal Justice Reform.” HuffPost. November 4, 2012. Available at: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/its-time-to-discuss-criminal-justice_b_1853080
  22. Daley, Kevin. “Biden Justice Department Nominee Does About Face on Police Protections, Drug Legalization.” The Washington Free Beacon. March 9, 2021. Available at: https://freebeacon.com/biden-administration/biden-justice-department-nominee-does-about-face-on-police-protections-drug-legalization/
  23. “Statement of Vanita Gupta, President and CEO The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.” U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Oversight Hearing on Police Use of Force and Community Relations. June 16, 2020. Available at: https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Gupta%20Testimony1.pdf
  24. Soo Rin Kim and Alexander Mallin. “Biden’s Associate Attorney General Pick Would be Wealthiest Member of Administration.” ABC News. March 7, 2021. Available at: https://abcnews.go.com/US/bidens-associate-attorney-general-pick-wealthiest-member-administration/story?id=76280582
  25. “Justice Department Announces Reproductive Rights Task Force.” Department of Justice. July 12, 2022. Available at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-reproductive-rights-task-force
  26. Chuck Ross. “Biden DOJ Official Smears Pregnancy Centers Amid Wave of Attacks.” The Washington Free Beacon. July 27, 2022. Available at: https://freebeacon.com/biden-administration/biden-doj-official-smears-pregnancy-centers-amid-wave-of-attacks/
  27. “Oppose the Confirmation of David Dugan to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois.” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. July 29, 2020. Available at: http://civilrightsdocs.info/pdf/policy/letters/2020/David-Dugan-Opposition-Letter-SDIL-7.29.20-FINAL.pdf
  28. Ball, Molly. The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.” Time, February 4, 2021. https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/
  29. Ball, Molly. The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.” Time, February 4, 2021. https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/
  30. Walter, Scott. “A Saintly Conspiracy to Save Democracy?” Capital Research Center, May 11, 2021. https://capitalresearch.org/article/a-saintly-conspiracy-to-save-democracy/
  31. Ball, Molly. The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election.” Time, February 4, 2021. https://time.com/5936036/secret-2020-election-campaign/
  32. Walter, Scott. “A Saintly Conspiracy to Save Democracy?” Capital Research Center, May 11, 2021. https://capitalresearch.org/article/a-saintly-conspiracy-to-save-democracy/

Connected Organizations

  1. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) (Non-profit)
    Former Deputy Legal Director
  2. Biden Administration – Department of Justice (Government Agency)
    Former Associate Attorney General
  3. Democracy Alliance Conferences (Other Group)
    Participant, Spring 2014; Spring 2018; Fall 2018
  4. Department of Justice (Government Agency)
    Former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, 2014-2017
  5. Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR) (Non-profit)
    Former President and CEO
  6. Obama Administration (Government Agency)
    Deputy Assistant Attorney General
  See an error? Let us know!