Vanita Gupta Nominated as Associate Attorney General: “Our Democracy Cannot Be Taken for Granted”

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In an otherwise distressing week, President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris took the stage on Thursday, Jan. 7 to name four new Justice Department nominees in their administration. Among them was associate attorney general nominee Vanita Gupta, who delivered the following remarks:

“By virtue of that name, that value of justice, we know the department carries a unique charge and North Star. It is the keeper of a sacred promise. It’s the promise of equal justice for all. That no one is above the law. And when this promise is pursued with vigor, it brings light to our nation and serves as a beacon to the world. But when abandoned, we degrade our democracy, and sew the division that we’ve come to know all too well,” Gupta said.

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The daughter of Indian immigrants, Gupta would be the first woman of color to serve as associate attorney general, having recently held the title of acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division. Since leaving the latter role in 2017, she worked as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

She was previously an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and then the ACLU, eventually serving as deputy legal director and the director of the Center for Justice. A graduate of Yale University and the New York University School of Law, she fought to challenge mass incarceration in the U.S. and wrongful drug evictions.

“[My parents] believed more than anything in the promise of America, and that loving this country brings with it the obligation to do the necessary work to make it better,” Gupta continued.

“Yesterday’s horrific events at the Capitol reminded us that our democracy cannot be taken for granted, that our nation has a long history of disinformation, white supremacist violence, mob violence. It also reminded us that our values and our constitution and our democracy, these do not protect themselves, it is people with courage who do that. And I am honored to return to a department that I will push every day for justice, accountability and equality under the law.”

Introducing Gupta, Biden commended her work under the Obama administration, beginning in 2014. He specifically highlighted the role she played in police reform as a leader of the Civil Rights Division, given the issue’s current prominence.

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“She helped institute common sense police reforms to build greater equity, safety, and trust. She was commended for her work by both law enforcement and those advocating for changes in the criminal justice system. That’s a rare achievement. And it speaks volumes about her capacity to unite people in common purpose, which is what this is all about. Uniting the American people,” Biden said.

Gupta concluded with a John Lewis quote to guide her time spent serving the public: “Democracy is not a state, it is an act.”

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Sophie Dorf-Kamienny is a Ms. Fellow and former Editorial Intern. She recently graduated high school and is completing a gap year before attending Tufts University.