The Indian-American community cheered as Vanita Gupta was confirmed as the Associate Attorney General of the United States, the first woman of color and first Indian American to hold the third-highest position in the Department of Justice.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, after a series of tension-filled debates, finally voted 51-49 and confirmed Gupta’s nomination thanks to Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski voting in favor of Gupta.
Gupta, 46, a star civil rights attorney, was nominated by President Joe Biden for the position on January 7. She had to go through a bumpy hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“Congratulations to Vanita Gupta on making history as the first woman of color to serve as Associate Attorney General. Now, I urge the Senate to confirm Kristen Clarke. Both are eminently qualified, highly respected lawyers who are dedicated to advancing racial equity and justice,” President Biden tweeted.
Gupta first gained national attention when she succeeded in overturning the conviction of dozens of black defendants in drug-busts in Tulia, Texas.
Vocal and fearless in advocating for human rights, she was appointed in October 2014 by President Barack Obama as the United States Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights and head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.
Neil Makhija, president of the high-impact Indian-American group IMPACT, in a statement said: “We are deeply proud of Vanita and proud to have publicly supported her, knowing that she will be a stalwart champion for all Americans, and in particular, communities that have been marginalized. At a time when we see nationwide assaults on our voting rights and a rise in hate crimes, our country needs a champion for civil rights at the highest levels of the Justice Department.”
Amar Shergill, the first South Asian-American to lead the Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party told indica News that the South Asian community should be proud “to have one of our own confirmed by the Senate to fill such an important position.”
“Vanita Gupta is a tenacious advocate for the fundamental American principle that every one of us should be treated equally under the law.”
Protima Pandey, public interest attorney in Santa Clara County, California, felt Gupta’s confirmation was a momentous occasion.
Pandey remembered presenting at a panel for the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Conference in Washington DC in 2017 where Gupta was the keynote speaker.
“This is a momentous nomination and momentous appointment,” said Pandey who also is a member of the South Asian Bar Association and serves as a director at the Office of Women’s policy.
Pandey pointed out that Gupta is an accomplished civil rights lawyer who has worked at the intersection of race equity, gender equity, poverty law and criminal justice.
“She will be able to steer the nation in the direction of meeting the goal of justice for all,” said Pandey.
Charanjit Brahma, former SABA president, told indica News: “I think that her position will have more impact on civil rights cases.”
“I was surprised to see that there were a lot of conservative organizations that supported her,” said Brahma, pointing to the Americans for Tax Reform and Koch Industries.
Gupta also had endorsements from several law enforcement agencies.
“It’s not clear to me why there was so much opposition then by Republicans,” said Brahma. “Ultimately everything got resolved, and that is the right outcome.”
Did he think Gupta would work on defunding policing?
“I think she does not have the power to defund the police under her current position, but the DOJ has control over the FBI,” Brahma said. “I think the DOJ has the opportunity to redefine some of the standards that are applied by police such as excessive force, search and seize.”
The Biden administration, however, was trying to pursue “a more moderate path at least to start with,” he said,
Gupta’s confirmation was especially crucial following the conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Kawana Lloyd, spokesperson for People For The American Way, told indica News.
“Following yesterday’s conviction of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Gupta’s confirmation is especially crucial as the nation reckons with reimagining and reinventing a public safety system that works for everyone, as well as confronting the systemic racism that has excused centuries of police killings of black people with impunity. Gupta is the best choice to be Associate Attorney General and her record of leadership on civil rights issues is unparalleled.”