Vanita Gupta will fight for all as associate attorney general

Greg Nash

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold confirmation hearings for Vanita Gupta, President Biden’s nominee to serve as the associate attorney general at the Justice Department. We have come to know and respect Ms. Gupta in our respective roles — as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and as a former police officer, Orlando chief of police, and member of the Judiciary Committee. We wholeheartedly support her nomination.

As the new administration seeks to rebuild from the past four years and recenter the Department of Justice on the goal of “liberty and justice for all,” Ms. Gupta is the right choice at the right time — a tireless champion of civil rights and peerless legal mind.

If confirmed, Ms. Gupta would be the first woman of color and first civil rights lawyer to serve as associate attorney general. She has fought discrimination at every step of her career, earning a reputation for fairness and bipartisanship. Her record of civil rights accomplishments is remarkable.

As a new attorney with the NAACP Legal and Education Fund, she won the release of dozens of African Americans and Latinos in Tulia, Texas who were falsely convicted of drug charges by an all-white jury based on the testimony of a biased undercover agent. That case resulted in pardons for Ms. Gupta’s clients by Gov. Rick Perry, who stated he pardoned her clients because doing so was “appropriate and just,” and that doing so was unanimously recommended by the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles.

At the ACLU, she achieved a landmark legal settlement, winning improved detention conditions for asylum seekers from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. She also led the ACLU’s criminal justice reform initiative, forging vital bipartisan partnerships with both law enforcement and conservative legal organizations.

After President Obama appointed Ms. Gupta to head the Civil Rights Division, she spearheaded DOJ’s efforts to limit mass incarceration and reform local policing practices, combatted religious discrimination and coordinated prosecution of hate crimes and human trafficking cases.

Against this backdrop of bipartisan success, we were sorely disappointed to learn that Ms. Gupta had become a target of dishonest far-right actors, such as the Judicial Crisis Network, who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars pushing demonstrable lies.

We know from personal experience that Ms. Gupta has long sought to build bridges with the police, not defund them. As the National Fraternal Order of Police said in response to the Judicial Crisis Network: “The real crisis in this country is not a judicial crisis. The real crisis in this country is partisan demagoguery and the politics of personal destruction.”

The fact that the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which Ms. Gupta used to head, has long opposed capital punishment, does not mean she supports reducing the sentences of white supremacists. Ms. Gupta has also adopted the same position on the impact of COVID-19 on our prison population as former Attorney General William Barr — that federal prisoners who do not present a safety threat should be subject to release during the pandemic.

Given her record of accomplishment and evenhandedness, we are not surprised that Ms. Gupta’s confirmation has received support from across the political and ideological spectrum. This includes major police organizations such as the Major Cities Chiefs Association, the Major County Sheriffs of America, the Federal Law Enforcement Officials Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, the Police Executive Research Forum and dozens of current and former police chiefs.

In addition to garnering praise from a range of progressive organizations, such as the NAACP, AFL-CIO, MALDEF and the Human Rights Campaign, she is supported by GOP stalwarts, such as Grover Norquist and Trey Grayson, the former chair of the Republican Association of Secretaries of State. This is because Ms. Gupta has always sought to build bridges based on common ground, regardless of political affiliation.

At a time when our nation is grappling with critical choices regarding police reform, domestic terrorism, the rise of hate groups, and the future of voting rights, we need an associate attorney general who will uphold the rule of law and fight for the rights and liberties of every American, no matter their race, gender, political affiliation or zip code.

Ms. Gupta has testified before the Judiciary Committee on numerous occasions and has been universally open, sincere and forthright in her dealings with us. In the words of Patrick Yoes, the President of the National Fraternal Order of Police, Ms. Gupta has always worked to “find common ground even when that seemed impossible.” There is no doubt in our mind that Vanita Gupta is the right person at the right time to help our nation achieve equal justice for all Americans.

Jerrold Nadler is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and Val Demings is a Judiciary Committee member and a former police chief of Orlando.

Tags associate attorney general civil rights equal rights Jerrold Nadler Joe Biden Rick Perry Val Demings Vanita Gupta William Barr

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