Indian American lawyer Vanita Gupta to be appointed acting head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department

Gupta, 39, has been praised for her work on prison reform.

By The American Bazaar Staff

WASHINGTON, DC: President Barack Obama has chosen Vanita Gupta, a longtime civil rights lawyer, deputy legal director of the ACLU and director of its Center for Justice, to be appointed acting head of the civil rights division of the Justice Department.

Vanita will be appointed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., administration officials said, according to The Washington Post.

“Vanita has spent her entire career working to ensure that our nation lives up to its promise of equal justice for all,” said Holder said in a statement announcing the appointment, according to NBC. “Even as she has done trailblazing work as a civil rights lawyer, Vanita is also known as a unifier and consensus builder.”

An administration official said the White House is expected to nominate Gupta in the coming months to be the permanent assistant attorney general for civil rights, a division that oversees voting rights and civil rights investigations, including the ones Holder recently opened on the police department in Ferguson, Mo., and the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old by a Ferguson police officer. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the Post.

Gupta, 39, who was born in the Philadelphia area to Indian American parents, has been praised by a wide array of political activists for her civil rights work, especially on prison reform, an issue on which liberals and conservatives have found common ground.

The Justice Department’s civil rights division has been without a permanent leader since its former head Tom Perez was confirmed as labor secretary in July 2013. Obama then nominated Debo Adegbile, a lawyer from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to head the division.

But Adegbile’s nomination set off a firestorm on Capitol Hill, where conservatives adamantly opposed him, and the country’s largest police organization, the Fraternal Order of Police, lobbied hard to derail the nomination because of Adegbile’s involvement in an appeal filed on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, an internationally known prisoner convicted of the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Gupta, too, worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund founded by the late Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall, where she began her career as a lawyer.

Her first case involved leading an effort to win the release of 38 defendants in Tulia, Tex., whose drug convictions and long sentences were discredited by her legal team. All of the defendants were pardoned in 2003 by Gov. Rick Perry, and Gupta helped negotiate a $5 million settlement for the defendants, said the Post.

Gupta won a landmark settlement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on behalf of immigrant children detained at Hutto, a privately run prison in Taylor, Tex., which ended “family detention” at the facility. She also has challenged racial disparities in high school graduation rates in Florida and successfully challenged the denial of passports to Mexican Americans born to midwives in southern border states. And she managed a project that ended HIV segregation in U.S. prisons.

Since 2008, Gupta has taught civil rights litigation and advocacy clinics at New York University School of Law. She received her JD from New York University School of Law and her BA from Yale University.

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