ACLU Leader Vanita Gupta Tapped to Lead Civil Rights Division at U.S. Department of Justice

October 15, 2014 12:00 am

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Appointment Continues Long Legacy of ACLU Leadership to Federal Positions

October 15, 2014

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NEW YORK – ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero today praised Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the ACLU’s Vanita Gupta will become Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, calling Gupta “a superb choice for this critically important position.”

Romero said Gupta, currently Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU and Director of its Center for Justice, “is an outstanding attorney with a significant depth and breadth of civil rights experience. She is a proven and well-respected leader, a creative thinker who has consistently worked collaboratively to achieve significant results.”

A graduate of Yale University and the New York University School of Law, where she was an adjunct clinical professor for several years, Gupta has significant civil rights experience. The clinic’s fieldwork component included having students work on ACLU criminal justice, immigrants’ rights, education, and predatory lending/consumer protection matters. Since 2010, she has led the ACLU’s criminal justice reform work, and has overseen a robust civil rights docket. “Vanita Gupta’s impressive advocacy of racial justice and criminal justice has had tangible results,” said Romero, “positively changing the lives of many Americans.”

“Over our nearly 100-year history, we’ve had many ACLU-affiliated lawyers go on to distinguished careers in federal government,” Romero also said, “Vanita Gupta will follow in their illustrious footsteps, bringing a strong command of a broad range of civil rights issues as well as deep experience in and knowledge of several key substantive areas of law.”

Several U.S. Supreme Court Justices had close associations with the ACLU before being appointed to the federal bench. Justice Felix Frankfurter served on the founding board of the ACLU in 1920 and remained an important leader during its early history. Justice Thurgood Marshall served on the ACLU national board from 1938 to 1946. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg founded the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in 1972, and served as both an ACLU national board member and as its general counsel.

Gupta will also join dozens of highly respected district court and appellate court judges with prior ACLU affiliations – sharing their steadfast commitment to the Constitution’s values and the defense of the civil rights and liberties of all.

As The Washington Post reported, two conservative leaders who have worked with Gupta today praised her appointment:

  • Americans for Tax Reform Founder and President Grover Norquist: “She’s been good to work with and a serious person. She’s been open to working with conservatives on good policy. She has played a strong role in the left-right cooperation in criminal justice issues.”
  • The Washington Times Opinion Editor, former President of the National Rifle Association and former Chairman of the American Conservative Union David A. Keene: “Vanita is a very good person. I’ve worked with her on criminal justice reform issues. Most of the Obama administration people have been so ideologically driven that they won’t talk to people who disagree with them. Vanita is someone who works with everyone. She both listens to and works with people from all perspectives to accomplish real good.”

Gupta currently directs the ACLU’s National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration, and has been instrumental in the significant bipartisan progress achieved in that movement in recent years. She also leads the ACLU’s involvement in Clemency Project 2014, and is intimately involved in its federal and state policing, sentencing, and drug policy and criminal law reform initiatives across multiple states.

In addition to having litigated landmark racial justice and criminal justice cases, Gupta has been involved in matters covering a broad range of civil rights issue areas, including education and disability rights. She oversees the project that ended HIV-segregation in Alabama and South Carolina prisons, and has also played a leading role in the ACLU’s response in Ferguson, Mo., working closely with the ACLU of Missouri and community groups, as well as at the federal level, in seeking reform.

Prior to joining the ACLU, Gupta spent five years at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, where she handled many civil rights matters. Her work included representing dozens of men and women in Tulia, Texas, who were imprisoned for low-level drug charges and ultimately pardoned by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Born in the United States to immigrant parents, Gupta has traveled to Eastern Europe and Africa to advise international human rights and civil rights leaders on protecting the rights of racial minorities. As Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, she will be responsible for enforcing federal statutes prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, religion, and national origin.

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