New Choice to Head DOJ Civil Rights Division Has Early Conservative Support

Gupta, left, and Vernon Jordan chat during a news conference announcing the winners in Reebok's 2004 Human Rights Awards in 2004. ( Andrew Kent/Getty Images File Photo)

Updated 4:38 p.m. | After the last administration pick to head the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division collapsed on the Senate floor, the Obama team has lined up some conservative backing for its new choice, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Vanita Gupta.  

As the news of her appointment broke in The Washington Post,  DOJ spokesman Brian Fallon tweeted out favorable quotes about Gupta from Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, and David Keene, the former president of the National Rifle Association.  

Those are the kind of endorsements that will be needed to get approval for the pick — either from moderate Democrats who helped sink the previous choice, former NAACP lawyer Debo Adegbile — or from the GOP, which may control the Senate in January. Gupta's background calling for reduced criminal penalties, particularly for drug offenses, meshes with recent actions taken by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. but could also face scrutiny on Capitol Hill. In particular, she has advocated or legalizing and regulating marijuana. In the meantime, Gupta will be appointed the acting head of the division.  

"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. She has a knack for bridging differences and building coalitions to drive progress. I am certain that Vanita will serve as a sound steward of this critical division, continuing the exemplary work that Molly Moran, Jocelyn Samuels and Tom Perez, have so ably led.”  

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