First South Asian American, head of Civil Rights Division of Department of Justice

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama today will appoint civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta as the acting head of Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. She is the first South Asian American appointed to head the division. In coming months, the president is expected to nominate Ms. Gupta to serve as the permanent assistant attorney general of civil rights, a role that has been unfilled since Tom Perez was confirmed as labor secretary in July 2013.

Mee Moua, president and executive director of Advancing Justice | AAJC, issued the following statement:

“Vanita Gupta is a highly qualified attorney and experienced litigator, with a deep and demonstrated commitment to the advancement of equality and justice. During this critical time in our history when tensions between law enforcement and communities of color are at an all-time high, we value the experience and leadership she brings to the Civil Rights Division, and we look forward to working with her.”

Ms. Gupta has broad litigation and policy experience across a range of civil rights issues, including criminal justice reform, immigration, police practices, education, children’s rights and civil rights for disabled persons. For the past four years, Ms. Gupta has served as a deputy legal director of the National American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Previously, she was an attorney for its Racial Justice Program. She began her career as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, which was founded by Thurgood Marshall.

Her first case as a civil rights lawyer involved leading an effort to win the release of 38 African-Americans in Tulia, Texas whose drug convictions and lengthy sentences were later utterly discredited by the work of Ms. Gupta and the legal team of private bar attorneys she organized. All of the defendants were eventually pardoned in 2003 by Governor Rick Perry, and she helped to negotiate a $6 million settlement for those arrested.

Ms. Gupta has been working closely and collaboratively with law enforcement, departments of corrections, and a cross-section of progressives, conservatives and libertarians to advance smart policing and criminal justice reforms. She has been intimately involved in federal and state policing, sentencing and drug policy and criminal law reform initiatives around the country. She has been instrumental in the significant bipartisan progress achieved to end the overreliance on incarceration in recent years.

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