President-elect Joe Biden has nominated notable Indian-American civil rights attorney, Vanita Gupta, as Associate Attorney General, the third highest ranking position at the Department of Justice (DOJ).
“As associate attorney general, the number three job at the department, I nominate Vanita Gupta. A woman I’ve known for some time. One of the most respected civil rights lawyers in America,” said Biden. “The proud daughter of immigrants from India, I’m grateful that Vanita is leaving her current job leading one of the premier civil rights organizations in the world as she answers the call to serve once again to ensure our justice system is even more fair and equitable,” the President-elect said in his announcement address.
One of the best-known and most respected civil rights attorneys in America, Gupta served as acting assistant attorney general for the civil rights division at the Justice Department under President Obama. She is currently the president and chief executive officer of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“I am humbled and honored to return to the Department of Justice and to once again work alongside the women and men who defend our Constitution and enforce our federal laws,” Gupta said. “My parents were proud immigrants from India; who taught me early on the values that led me to civil rights work and public service.”
Vice-President elect Harris in her speech highlighted the damage that has been done to the Justice Department and the country’s long-overdue reckoning on racial injustice, once again condemning the storming of the US Capitol and Trump’s role in inciting the violence.
Gupta had served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department in former President Barack Obama’s administration when Biden was the Vice President.
Vanita Gupta, has recalled her experience of racial bigotry as a four-year-old while she pledged her commitment to civil rights and justice reform. Speaking on Thursday after Biden introduced her as “one of the most respected civil rights lawyers in America”, Gupta spoke of her parents as “proud immigrants from India”, and the family’s experience of bias, “an early memorybut one that is seared in my mind”.
“One day, I was sitting in a McDonald’s restaurant with my sister, mother, and grandmother. As we ate our meals, a group of skinheads at the next table began shouting ethnic slurs and throwing food at us until we had to leave the restaurant,” she said. “That feeling never left me of what it means to be made to feel unsafe because of who you are,” said Gupta, who went on to a brilliant career as a fighter for civil rights.
She gained fame when straight out of law school she won the release of 38 people, most of them African Americans, who had been wrongly convicted on drug charges in a Texas town by all-White juries. She also got them $6 million on compensation.
She was then working for the Legal Defence Fund of NAACP (National Association of Coloured People). Gupta went on to work as a staff lawyer for the top human rights organisation, the American Civil Liberties Union, where she took on several cases for immigrants and victims of mass arrests.
A landmark case she won was getting a settlement for children held in privately run immigration prisons. She is now the president and CEO of Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 human rights organisations.
Gupta will have to be confirmed by the Senate as associate attorney general, which would be smooth sailing because the Democrats have taken control of the Senate. She is the latest of a series of Indian Americans appointed to important posts by Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.
They include Neera Tanden, who will be the director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Vivek Murthy, the Surgeon General, both of whom will have to be confirmed in their positions by the Senate, and Vedant Patel, to be his assistant press secretary, Vinay Reddy to be the director of speechwriting and Gautam Raghavan, to be the deputy director of the Office of Presidential Personnel.
Indian-American Dr Raj Iyer has also taken over as the first Chief Information Officer of the US Army, after the Pentagon created the position in July 2020. Equivalent in rank to a three-star General, Iyer will supervise an annual budget of USD 16 billion for the US Army’s IT operations.
One of the highest ranking Indian-American civilians in the US Department of Defense, Iyer, who holds a PhD in Electrical Engineering, serves as the principal advisor to the Secretary of the Army and directs representation of the secretary in matters relating to information management/information technology (IT), the Pentagon said in a statement.
Biden on Friday named health policy expert Vidur Sharma as the testing adviser on his Covid-19 Response Team. Sharma, the latest Indian American nominee for a key position in the administration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris that takes over next Wednesday, will be joining others dealing with the fight against coronavirus like Surgeon General-nominee Vivek Murthy, and Covid-19 Task Force members Atul Gawande and Celine Gounder.
Sharma, like many Biden nominees, is an old White House hand having served in the administration of former President Barack Obama, when Biden was Vice President. In that stint, he was a health policy adviser on the Domestic Policy Council working on implementing Obama’s signature programme of trying to ensure health insurance for all, known as Obamacare.
Among others are Atul Gawande and Celine Gounder to the Covid-19 task force, Mala Adiga to be the policy director for Jill Biden, who will become the First Lady, and Maju Varghese to be the executive director of their inauguration – the swearing-in ceremony and the festivities around it. Appointment of Gupta with a strong civil rights records could reassure them about Biden’s commitment to the cause.
(Picture Courtesy: OneIndia)