Senate Panel Advances Nomination Of Gupta, Civil Rights Lawyer Picked For Top DOJ Role

UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Vanita Gupta, nominee for associate attorney general, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Hart Building on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Lisa Monaco, nominee fo... UNITED STATES - MARCH 09: Vanita Gupta, nominee for associate attorney general, testifies during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Hart Building on Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Lisa Monaco, nominee for deputy attorney general, also testified. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) MORE LESS
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March 25, 2021 12:11 p.m.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance confirmation of Vanita Gupta, President Biden’s pick for the No. 3 role at the Justice Department, to the Senate floor.

Gupta, a widely acclaimed civil rights lawyer, has been a target of Republicans and outside conservative groups, who have tried to paint her as an anti-cop radical, even though her nomination has earned the support of several prominent law enforcement organizations. Other high-profile former Republican officials and figures on the right endorsed her as well.

All the Republicans on the committee voted against her confirmation, creating an 11-11 tie that will still send her nomination to the Senate floor.

“Her extensive support from prominent conservatives is not an aberration,” Chairman Dick Durbin said at the hearing, while praising her ability to work with people across the political spectrum.

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He accused Republican of nonetheless spreading “baseless stories” about her and suggested the GOP antipathy towards her stemmed from her work on voting rights.

“As Gupta has spent a significant portion of her career advocating for the right to vote, there can be little doubt that many of the attacks leveled against her flow from that one simple truth,” Durbin said. “Far too many on the other side are set on curbing voting rights, rather than protecting and strengthening them.”

Despite the GOP opposition, Gupta appears likely to be confirmed by the full Senate. Earlier this month, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the centrist who tanked another contentious Biden nominee, suggested he was inclined to support Gupta.

Gupta jumped into the civil rights legal world immediately after she graduated law school. One of her early endeavors at her first job at the NAACP Legal Defense Education and Fund — challenging a mass prosecution of mostly Black residents in a small Texas town — quickly elevated her to the national scene.

That episode connected her to one of her biggest current critics in the Senate, John Cornyn (R-TX). Cornyn, then the Texas attorney general, had been a public supporter of the cop who had been behind the shady prosecutions, which were ultimately reversed with pardons from Texas’ then-Gov. Rick Perry (R).

After her stint at the NAACP-LDF, Gupta worked for the ACLU and was later appointed to Obama’s Justice Department to lead the Civil Rights Division. When she left the department at the end of that administration, she became the head of a sprawling civil rights group. If confirmed to the position Biden has selected her for, associate attorney general, she will be the first woman of color to serve in the role.

The right’s smear campaign against her first focused on claims that she had extreme views towards law enforcement — an allegation that gained little traction, given the endorsement she had gotten from cop groups, all the way up to the Trump-loving Fraternal Order of the Police. Conservative activists then zeroed in on the work of a company, chaired by her father, where she owns $14.5 million in stock. Cornyn at the committee led a presentation about the chemicals made by the company that have been used by Mexican heroin cartels. Gupta has pledged to divest from the company, which also announced last year it is no longer selling in Mexico the chemicals in question.

After her confirmation hearing earlier this month, Republicans claimed that she had misled the committee on her positions regarding drug decriminalization, defund the police and the death penalty. They asked for Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin to bring her in for a second round of questions, a request Durbin pointedly refused in a letter on Wednesday evening.

In addition to advancing Gupta’s confirmation, the committee also approved the nomination of Lisa Monaco, Biden’s pick for deputy attorney general, the No. 2 role.

Monaco, whose nomination provoked far less controversy, was approved unanimously by the committee with a voice vote. 

Both nominees will not get their Senate floor confirmation votes until after April 12, due to the coming Senate recess, according to NPR.

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