The Nomination Of Vanita Gupta For Civil Rights Chief Is Exactly What The Department Of Justice Needs
The civil rights division of the Department of Justice hasn't had a stable leader in more than a year, but that changed this week: President Barack Obama nominated ACLU lawyer Vanita Gupta as the civil rights leader on Wednesday. Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder made the announcement, officially appointing Gupta as the acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division. Gupta will be the first South Asian-American to hold the storied position.A longtime civil rights lawyer and New York University Law School graduate, Gupta has built her career around racial justice. She currently serves as the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, where she also oversees the Center for Justice. Much of her recent work with the ACLU focuses on mass incarceration and prisoners' rights. In a statement released Wednesday, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero called Gupta "an outstanding attorney" who displays "a significant depth and breadth of civil rights experience."
Holder also praised Gupta as a trailblazer in his Wednesday announcement, reaffirming that she's the best woman for one of the top Department of Justice positions:
Vanita has spent her entire career working to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equal justice for all. Even as she has done trailblazing work as a civil rights lawyer, Vanita is also known as a unifier and consensus builder. She has a knack for bridging differences and building coalitions to drive progress. I am certain that Vanita will serve as a sound steward of this critical division, continuing the exemplary work that Molly Moran, Jocelyn Samuels and Tom Perez, have so ably led.
Here are a few things you should know about the newest U.S. assistant attorney general for the civil rights division...
She Has A Stellar Education Background
Gupta, who's 39 years old, received her bachelor's degree at Yale University, graduating magna cum laude. She earned her juris doctor from New York University School of Law — one of the top law programs in the nation — in 2001.
She's Committed To Immigration Reform
Between 2006 and 2010, Gupta worked as a staff attorney in the ACLU's Racial Justice Program. There, she focused on immigration detention and criminal justice reform. Gupta's work was responsible for the Department of Homeland Security ending the "family detention" protocol at immigration detention centers across the nation. She led the landmark case against the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, which eventually ended in a settlement between the ACLU and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and led to the immediate release of 26 immigrant children detained at the center in sub-par conditions. The ACLU said at the time of settlement:
Conditions at Hutto have gradually and significantly improved as a result of the groundbreaking litigation. Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.
Her Biggest Case Was With The NAACP
Prior to joining the ACLU, Gupta worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she defended 38 African-Americans wrongfully convicted of drug charges in Tulia, Texas. Her work exposed the systemic racism apparent in the criminal justice system and led to the release and exoneration of the prisoners. The case even won support from Gov. Rick Perry, who signed a bill approving the release of the 38 men on bail. Later, Perry pardoned 35 of the 38 defendants, saying, "Texans demand a justice system that is tough but fair. I believe my decision to grant pardons in these cases is both appropriate and just."
She's A Professor
Gupta currently splits her time overseeing the ACLU's Center for Justice — which includes its end mass incarceration campaign — and serving as a law professor at the NYU School of Law. According to the university, Gupta leads the civil rights clinic on racial justice.Images: ACLU, Yale University/Facebook, Getty Images