Vanita Gupta becomes the first person of color to be confirmed as Associate Attorney General, the third highest ranking position at the Department of Justice.
In the end, a multi-million dollar campaign by rightwing groups to derail Vanita Gupta’s nomination didn’t make much of a difference. The US Senate confirmed the Indian American as the Associate Attorney General Wednesday by a 51-49 vote margin.
Her confirmation makes Gupta the first person of color to serve in the third-highest ranking position at the Department of Justice. She also becomes the highest ranking Indian American to serve in the department.
All 50 Democratic senators voted to confirm Gupta, while all but one Republican in the chamber opposed her. The lone GOP senator to vote to confirm her was Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Earlier the moderate Republican had voted with the Democrats to bring the nomination to Senate a vote.
While nominating in January, then-President-Elect Joe Biden described Gupta as “one of the most respected civil rights lawyers in America.” But her nomination was stalled for nearly three months because of a near-unanimous opposition from Senate Republicans, who found the nominee to be too liberal and progressive.
Immediately after the confirmation vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pointed out its historic nature. “Not only is Ms. Gupta the first woman of color to ever be nominated to the position, she is the first civil rights attorney ever to be nominated to the position — the third-ranking official in the Justice Department,” the New York Democrat said on the floor.
As soon as Biden announced her Gupta’s nomination, conservative groups launched a concerted campaign to derail it, with just one organization, Judicial Crisis Network, reportedly spending $800,000 on the campaign. Not surprisingly, many potential GOP 2024 presidential aspirants, such as Sen. Josh Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz, led the efforts in the Senate.
But several groups also campaigned for Gupta, including some anti-Trump Republicans who launched a “Confirm Gupta” ad campaign. “Gupta has a record of building bridges across partisan divides,” a 30-second spot that aired on cable networks said. “So let’s stop playing politics. Confirm Vanita Gupta and let’s build an America we can all believe in.”
Gupta, an alumnus of Yale University and New York University School of Law, has had a stellar career as a civil rights attorney and as Justice Department official. Her first two jobs were with two of the most storied civil and human rights groups in the nation, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). One of the first cases she argued was against wrongful drug convictions of 38 African American individuals in Tulia, Texas, by all-white juries. She won the case.
At ACLU, Gupta led the Smart Justice Campaign aimed at ending mass incarceration.
During the Obama administration, she became the first woman confirmed as assistant attorney general. Then she went on to lead the department’s Civil Rights Division, where she oversaw criminal justice reform, prosecuted hate crimes and protected voting rights.
After leaving the Justice Department in 2017, Gupta joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, as its President and CEO. The Conference, one of the largest civil rights organizations in the world, is a coalition of more than 200 national organizations that promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States.
On Wednesday, several Indian American groups welcomed Gupta’s confirmation. “At a time of rampant voter suppression, unprecedented attacks on our rights and democracy, and increased hate crimes against AAPI communities, Vanita Gupta is exactly the champion of justice and civil rights our country needs,” said Neil Makhija, Executive Director of Impact, in a statement. “This historic moment has been decades in the making.”
Impact is a pro-Democratic Indian American political action committee that promotes candidates from the community.
“Vanita’s conformation is a matter of tremendous pride and joy for the Indian diaspora in the United States,” said Sanjeev Joshipura, Executive Director of Indiaspora, a nonpartisan nonprofit. “It’s wonderful to see a highly accomplished Indian American woman who has long been a champion on civil justice issues in this very important position of public service and leadership. With her impressive track record, her confirmation is especially apposite given the reckoning on race that our country is grappling with.”
Gupta, daughter of Raj Gupta, the former Chairman and CEO of the chemical giant Rohm and Haas, and his wife, Kamla Gupta, was born in Philadelphia in 1974. She did part of her schooling in France and England during her childhood while Raj Gupta served as a senior executive for Rohm and Haas in Europe for more than a decade.
On Wednesday, the elder Gupta himself expressed delight at his daughter’s confirmation. “Kamla, myself, close family and friends are very pleased to see Vanita confirmed as Associate Attorney General,” he told the American Bazaar.
Pointing to her career trajectory — “from marching with Rev. Jesse Jackson on her graduation day at Yale to support fair wages for the workers, to working for Legal Defense Fund (LDF) and then ACLU, to serving as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, to serving as President and CEO of Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights” — Raj Gupta said his daughter “has demonstrated her deep conviction on a broad range of topics which truly matter.”
He added, “We wish her the very best in her new role and pray for her success.We would have never imagined today when I landed in New York in January 1968 with $8 in my pocket. This is an amazing country!”
Vanita Gupta is married to Chinh Q. Le, a Vietnamese American, who is the Legal Director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. They have two sons.
Read more on Vanita Gupta:
Vanita Gupta receives NAACP’s William Robert Ming Advocacy award (July 28, 2017)
Racial segregation in education exists today: Vanita Gupta (December 16, 2016)
Three dead, 19 injured in white supremacist rally violence in Virginia (August 13, 2017)
Tuesday a day of many firsts for Indian Americans (January 6, 2017)