Washington: Indian American activist Vanita Gupta, who headed up the civil rights division of the Justice Department in the Obama administration, was narrowly confirmed as Associate Attorney General, on a 51-49 Senate vote. Gupta is currently president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She will be the first Indian American to serve in this role, the third highest position at the Justice Department.
President Joe Biden in a tweet said: “Congratulations to Vanita Gupta on making history as the first woman of color to serve as Associate Attorney General.” He characterized her as an “eminently qualified, highly respected lawyer” who is “dedicated to advancing racial equity and justice.”
During her tenure as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration, Gupta broke new ground on several occasions, championing the rights of gays, lesbians and transgender people, among other minorities. In a landmark move in 2016, Gupta sent a letter to every public school in the country, telling them to allow transgender students to use bathrooms that conformed with their gender identity. Gupta’s sister had come out as a lesbian while in college.
Under Gupta’s leadership, the civil rights division also opened up investigations into local law enforcement agencies accused of using excessive force, discriminatory policing, and unlawful stops and arrests. Under her leadership, the division also prosecuted hate crimes and human trafficking, promoted disability rights, and worked to combat discrimination in education, housing, and employment, among other issues.
“We did a lot of work to make sure that the most marginalized people had a voice, and making America a place of justice for all,” Gupta said in a 2017 interview. She lambasted former President Donald Trump and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rolling back the progress the civil rights division had made during her tenure. Gupta earlier underwent a tough confirmation hearing in which Republican senators accused her of bipartisanship, pulling up old tweets. In 2020, Gupta tweeted during the Republican convention: “Don’t know if I can take three more nights of racism, xenophobia, and outrageous lies.” She also chastised Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine for voting to confirm Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who had been accused of sexual assault.
Gupta was born in Philadelphia, and grew up in England and France before returning to the US. She received her BA from Yale and her JD from NYU.