Friday, October 17, 2014
"Vanita Gupta Is an Excellent Choice for Top Civil Rights Post"
NYTimes's Jesse Wegman calls President Obama's selection of the ACLU's Vanita Gupta to run the DOJ's Civil Rights Division an "inspired" but "risky" decision. Although perhaps an ideal candidate, partisan gridlock in Washington could create significant obstacles to Gupta's confirmation. Wegman writes:
In less polarized times, the answer should and likely would be an unequivocal yes. What argument could there be against naming a highly-experienced civil-rights lawyer to the top civil-rights post in the country? Ms. Gupta would, if confirmed, also represent a groundbreaking trifecta for the position: the first woman, the first South Asian, and, at 39, the youngest in the department’s history.
But nothing is unequivocal these days, particularly in light of the Senate’s spectacular failure to confirm Mr. Obama’s previous nominee, Debo Adegbile.
Mr. Adegbile was also very qualified to lead the division, but he was voted down 52-47 last March, after a concerted push by law-enforcement groups furious at what they considered to be thecardinal sin of doing his job. As a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Mr. Adegbile was involved in appeals on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, then on death row for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer.
By these low standards, Ms. Gupta’s nomination might seem even riskier. She has spoken bluntly and often on issues that were once considered untouchable on both sides of the aisle. In a 2013 New York Times op-ed, Gupta wrote of the vast racial disparities in America’s “prison-industrial complex” and called for, among other things, the elimination of mandatory-minimum sentences and the decriminalization of marijuana possession.
Nevertheless, as Wegman observes, Gupta has support in some suprising places -- from the likes of Grover Norquist to a former head of the NRA. Wegman thus concludes:
Mr. Obama has named Ms. Gupta acting chief, and has indicated he plans to put her nomination before the Senate. He should hold to that, even if the Democrats lose in November. A vote is always a risk, particularly since the fight to replace Mr. Holder may not be pretty. But as Attorney General Eric Holder prepares to leave after six transformative and tumultuous years, Ms. Gupta is primed to expand on the most important parts of his legacy. She also has the potential to exploit a rare point of bipartisanship in a splintered era. If Mr. Obama can’t fight for someone like her, whom can he fight for?