Why Vanita Gupta deserves to be confirmed as associate attorney general

A dedicated consensus builder is exactly whom we need at the DOJ

Vanita Gupta’s dedication to building meaningful, lasting partnerships, even with those of a different political party or ideological stripe, will be vital to the Justice Department, Durbin writes.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Vanita Gupta’s dedication to building meaningful, lasting partnerships, even with those of a different political party or ideological stripe, will be vital to the Justice Department, Durbin writes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 16, 2021 at 5:30am

The Senate will soon vote to confirm Vanita Gupta to be the nation’s next associate attorney general, the No. 3 position at the Justice Department. Gupta is a historic nominee — when she is confirmed, she will be the first woman of color and the first civil rights attorney to serve as associate attorney general.

There are many reasons why Gupta deserves to be confirmed, particularly her depth of experience, her commitment to upholding the rule of law and her willingness and ability to work across political and ideological lines, as evidenced by the widespread support she enjoys from law enforcement, conservative and Republican leaders, civil rights groups, and others.

First, Gupta has a depth of experience that will benefit the DOJ, its senior leadership team, and the components that fall within the associate attorney general’s purview. For more than two decades, Gupta has devoted her time and her legal acumen to advancing the cause of justice and upholding civil rights. From her early days at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, where she led efforts to exonerate wrongfully convicted Black residents of the town of Tulia, Texas, to her tenure at the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, where she has led initiatives on voting rights, criminal justice reform and the census, Gupta has been a tireless advocate for those who face discrimination and hardship in their everyday lives.

Second, Gupta has shown a lifelong commitment to upholding the rule of law. We see this not just in her nonprofit legal work — though which she sought to vindicate civil rights that are under constant assault — but also in her leadership of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. In that capacity, Gupta undertook critically important work, including protecting servicemembers, combating religious discrimination and prosecuting human trafficking. Throughout her tenure in the Civil Rights Division, Gupta pursued her work with unwavering integrity, independence and fidelity to the rule of law. And she will do the same as associate attorney general.

Third, Gupta has proved time and again that she is a consensus builder — someone who is both able and willing to bring stakeholders together in a common pursuit of justice. At the Civil Rights Division and again at the Leadership Conference, she worked hand in hand with both law enforcement and the civil rights community.

Notably, Gupta has worked for years to provide police departments with the tools and resources they need to build better relationships with their communities and help officers focus on fighting crime rather than tackling the problems of drug abuse and mental illness. Her experience and work in this area has helped her nomination earn widespread support from law enforcement organizations and officials throughout the country, including the Fraternal Order of Police, National Sheriffs’ Association, Major Cities Chiefs Association and International Association of Chiefs of Police.

This dedication to building meaningful, lasting partnerships, even with those of a different political party or ideological stripe, will be vital to the DOJ as it works to restore public trust and renew the integrity and independence missing from the Trump era.

One would think, given Gupta’s extraordinary credentials and consensus building approach, that she would enjoy broad, bipartisan support in the Senate. Unfortunately, her nomination has been met with extreme and vitriolic opposition from Senate Republicans, much of it in the form of falsehoods. Sadly, we saw this from Senate Judiciary Republicans when her nomination was up for a vote in committee on March 25.

I will not give any more airtime to these unfounded attacks. Instead, I would urge my fellow senators and the public at large to take a look at Gupta’s actual record.

In doing so, they will see a nominee who has committed her entire life to making this nation more just. A nominee who is guided by a belief that we can and must do better in protecting voting rights, combating hate crimes, protecting the rights of religious minorities and building a more equitable criminal justice system. A nominee who truly believes in the principle of equal justice under law.

And a nominee who deserves to be confirmed. 

Sen. Richard J. Durbin is a Democrat representing the state of Illinois. He chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee and serves as the chamber’s majority whip.