Holder taps ACLU lawyer to head civil rights unit

Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderParties to wage census battle with outside groups Welcome to third-world democracy and impeachment Uber settles sexual harassment charges for .4 million MORE on Wednesday named the American Civil Liberties Union’s top lawyer to head the Justice Department’s civil rights unit.

Vanita Gupta will serve as principal deputy assistant attorney general and acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, taking the helm of the unit at a time when it is grappling with issues, including voting rights and racial bias among police.

She becomes the third “acting” assistant attorney to lead the division since Labor Secretary Tom Perez departed for his current position.

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

Formerly an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Gupta has been closely involved with issues related to federal and state policing, sentencing, drug policy and criminal law. She now directs the ACLU’s National Campaign to End Mass Incarceration.

Those credentials hew closely to Holder’s own agenda on civil rights. Under Holder, the department has initiated a series of investigations into policing following the August shooting of an unarmed black teen in Ferguson, Mo. It has implemented charging and sentencing policies meant to promote treatment programs over jail time for some offenders.

The announcement comes weeks after Holder announced his own impending departure from the agency, raising questions about the fate of his aggressive push on civil rights.

Gupta will start work on Oct. 20, replacing Molly Moran, who will become principal deputy associate attorney general, Holder said.