President Barack Obama will nominate American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Vanita Gupta to be the assistant attorney general for civil rights, one of the most aggressive divisions of the Department of Justice.
This undated handout photo provided by the Justice Department shows Vanita Gupta. An American Civil Liberties Union attorney was named Wednesday as the acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Gupta, who has served for the past four years as deputy legal director of the ACLU and director of its Center for Justice, starts at the Justice Department next week. She previously worked as a lawyer at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. (AP Photo/Justice Department)
The division has been the administration’s most aggressive tool in challenging state policies such as voter ID laws and previously challenged the Arizona anti-illegal immigration statute. This is the second nominee put forward for the position since Thomas Perez left the post upon being nominated as Labor secretary.
The DOJ’s civil rights division is also leading the probe into the police shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.
Outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder announced the plans to department personnel on Wednesday, the Washington Post reported.
“Even as she has done trailblazing work as a civil rights lawyer, Vanita is also known as a unifier and consensus builder,” Holder told the civil rights division lawyers, the Post said, citing a person who was at the meeting. “She has a knack for bridging differences and building coalitions to drive progress.”
Though the ACLU can be polarizing, Gupta does appear to be popular with at least some conservative activists. The Post quoted David Keene, former head of the National Rifle Association and before that the head of the American Conservative Union, as well as Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist as believing Gupta is someone conservatives can work with.
“Most of the Obama administration people have been so ideologically driven that they won’t talk to people who disagree with them,” Keene told the Post. “Vanita is someone who works with everyone. She both listens to and works with people from all perspectives to accomplish real good.”
Gupta has been the deputy legal director for the ACLU.
Obama initially nominated Debo Adegbile, but police organizations opposed he nomination because Adegbile represented a convicted cop killer from the early 1980s. Several Senate Democrats joined Republicans to defeat the nomination.