Diverse Group Assembles To Punch Back At ‘Character Assassination’ Of Top DOJ Pick Vanita Gupta

Vanita Gupta, nominee for Associate Attorney General, speaks after being nominated by US President-elect Joe Biden at The Queen theater January 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by J... Vanita Gupta, nominee for Associate Attorney General, speaks after being nominated by US President-elect Joe Biden at The Queen theater January 7, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. (Photo by JIM WATSON / AFP) (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 2, 2021 2:19 p.m.

Unlikely bedfellows congregated on Zoom Tuesday to sing the praises of Vanita Gupta, President Joe Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, amid a right-wing campaign to paint her as radical. 

They included leaders of civil rights groups like the NAACP, sheriffs and police chiefs, and even a former executive at Koch Industries.

Gupta, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, formerly led the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department during the Obama administration. Her confirmation hearing is scheduled for March 9. 

She’s come under fire from such hard-right groups as the Judicial Crisis Network, mostly centered on accusations that she is anti-law enforcement with attempts to tie her to “defunding the police.” Some Republican lawmakers have been amplifying those attacks.

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Many of her most heated defenders on the call were police officers themselves. Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo in particular expressed his “frustration” at the attacks.

“We shouldn’t be having to have this conference call to respond to a hit and character assassination of a woman that is eminently qualified, who possesses the honesty and integrity, the intellect and the experience and relationships to do a very effective job for the American people,” he said. 

“Senator Coons, your colleagues that are using law enforcement and her positions on law enforcement as an excuse to cast aspersions and stop her nomination — I can just say we are beyond offended,” he added, addressing the lawmaker who was also on the call to support Gupta. 

Police groups have sent letters to the Senate Judiciary Committee urging her confirmation, and an organization of anti-Trump Republicans called Defending Democracy Together has launched an ad campaign to highlight her work with Republicans and law enforcement agencies. 

Acevedo got in a Twitter disagreement with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) this week, after the latter cast a comment of Gupta’s — about everyone having implicit racial bias — as damning. 

“It gets a little old: elected officials stand for the blue, they back the blue, the thin blue line,” Acevedo said on the call. “Well guess what? There is unanimous support from all the major law enforcement groups in this country.” 

Some Gupta supporters on the call pointed out the pattern emerging in the snags to get Biden’s nominees confirmed, that women of color in particular have been subject to scrutiny and pushback that their white male peers have not. 

“It’s not lost on those of us in the civil rights community whose qualifications and credibility are being questioned most in this confirmation process,” said Janet Murguía, president of Latino advocacy group UnidosUS. “There appears to be a very clear double standard for certain nominees of color.” 

The comment comes after the possible collapse of the nomination of Neera Tanden to be director of the Office of Management and Budget, whom Republicans and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) decided has tweeted too aggressively to deserve the post. 

“It’s outrageous that we are experiencing any baseless smear attacks against this extraordinary leader,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women’s Law Center on the Gupta call. “Attacks,” she added, “that are clearly a double standard.” 

Coons said on the call that he “thinks” Gupta will be confirmed.

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