Person

Vanita Gupta

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

Left-Wing Activist Lawyer

Vanita Gupta is a civil rights attorney and as of February 2021 the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR). She was appointed to lead the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and was nominated for Associate Attorney General under President Joe Biden in January 2021. She previously worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. [1]

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. [2]

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. [3] Gupta attended Yale University where she graduated summa cum laude. She attended the New York University School of Law for her law degree. [4] Gupta co-taught NYU Law’s Racial Justice Clinic, and in fall 2020, she became a member of NYU Law’s board of trustees. [5]

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. [6]

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. [7] 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. [8]

In 2017, Gupta became the president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, succeeding Wade Henderson, who led the organization for 21 years. [9]

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. [10]

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. [11]

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. [12][13]

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. [14]

Gupta left the Department of Justice in January 2017 at the conclusion of the Obama administration’s mandate. [15]

In January 2021, President Joe Biden nominated Gupta as Associate Attorney General, the third-highest post in the DOJ. [16]

References

  1. “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. ^
  2. 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. ^
  3. “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. ^
  4. “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. ^
  5. “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. ^
  6. 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. ^
  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. “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. ^
  9. “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. ^
  10. 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. ^
  11. 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. ^
  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. “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. ^
  14. “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. ^
  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. 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/. ^

Connected Organizations

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