The Senate voted 51-49 today to confirm Vanita Gupta as associate attorney general making her the first woman of color to be an associate attorney general in the Department of Justice. The Indian American now joins Attorney General Merrick Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco as the No. 3 Justice Department official.
Vice President Kamala Devi Harris’ tie-breaking vote wasn’t necessary as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) supported Gupta and was the lone Republican to vote for the confirmation. Gupta received significant resistance from GOP senators for her views on defunding the police and decriminalizing possession of all illegal drugs. Republicans in the Senate Judiciary Committee accused her of being a liar and hyper partisan and not fit to serve in the DOJ.
On the Senate floor, Murkowski said although she was troubled by some of Gupta’s statements, she decided to back her confirmation following a lengthy conversation with her. “I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to a woman who I believe has demonstrated throughout her professional career to be deeply, deeply committed to matters of justice,” she said.
A day earlier, President Joe Biden had noted that he had nominated “eminently qualified and highly respected” Gupta to the DOJ as she has spent her entire career fighting to advance racial equity and justice. Biden, in his remarks on April 20 on the verdict in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd, said that the State and local government and law enforcement needs to step up, but so does the federal government. “That’s why I have appointed the leadership at the Justice Department that I have, that is fully committed to restoring trust between law enforcement and the community they are sworn to serve and protect,” he said. “I have also nominated two key Justice Department nominees — Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke — who are eminently qualified, highly respected lawyers who have spent their entire careers fighting to advance racial equity and justice.” He said the two “have the experience and the skill necessary to advance our administration’s priorities to root out unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system, and they deserve to be confirmed.”
News reports had earlier speculated that Gupta would be confirmed despite GOP opposition. “The GOP attacks are making almost no dent with Democrats who view the effort as over-hyped and verging on character assassination, but they’re not the real audience for the campaign against Gupta,” reported Politico. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) had spoken against Gupta, and Scott had mounted his own separate push to pressure Democrats facing competitive races in 2022 on Gupta, dubbing her a ‘radical’ pick who’d embrace progressive calls to defund the police.
Similar reception was meted out to Kristen Clarke, a civil rights lawyer who was nominated to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
“The political jostling over the two nominees is the latest round of high-octane partisanship on the Senate Judiciary Committee, home to some of the chamber’s most brutal confirmation battles in recent years,” Politico notes. “ Its roster this Congress includes several Republicans potentially in the mix for the 2024 presidential primary.” The GOP’s attempts to derail Gupta and Clarke harks back to Neera Tanden’s failed White House budget office bid.
“The Republican attacks are “essentially part of a smear campaign,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Politico, one that’s “vile and smacks of gender and race bias.” Similarly, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), a close Biden ally, suggested that some Republicans on the panel are “getting sharper and more partisan.”
Gupta had support from a wide range of people, including law enforcement officers’ groups, and Republicans like former Department of Justice officials who served during the George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations, as well as one former GOP House member and a former Republican commissioner of the Federal Elections Commission.
She previously led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama, and recently served as president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights coalition to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States.