Indian-American Vanita Gupta, who headed civil rights division in the Department of Justice in the Obama Administration, has been appointed as president and CEO of ‘The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights’, becoming the first woman to head the prestigious organisation. Known for her fearless advocacy of all human beings, 41-year-old Gupta will replace Wade Henderson who is stepping down after more than two decades.
Gupta, who will also lead its sister organisation ‘The Leadership Conference Education Fund’, will begin her new role on June 1. “At a time when our nation’s ideals and progress are being threatened in such fundamental ways, The Leadership Conference is a vital nerve center of the broad swath of civil and human rights organisations that are fighting for justice, fairness, and equality around the country,” Gupta said.
“Civil and human rights work has never been easy, and these unprecedented times demand a clarity of vision, strategy, and solidarity that the Leadership Conference coalition is uniquely positioned to champion,” she said in a statement.
Henderson, who will step down after 21 years, said leaders had the responsibility to cultivate, encourage and make paths for the next generation to lead and to thrive.
“That time has come for me, and I could not be more pleased to pass the baton of leadership to Vanita, a talented litigator, strategic visionary and tireless advocate who is deeply committed to building a country as good as its ideals, the mission of The Leadership Conference,” he said.
Eric Holder, the former US Attorney General, said throughout her career Gupta has pushed the nation to live up to its promise of equal justice for all.
“Her fearless advocacy for the rights of all Americans, while at the helm of the Civil Rights Division, proves that she will be able to lead the important coalition of the Leadership Conference member organisations,” Holder said.
As head of the civil rights division, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.
She did critical work in a number of areas, including advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform; prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking; promoting disability rights; protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals; ensuring voting rights for all and combating discrimination in education, housing, employment, lending and religion.
She regularly engaged with a broad range of stakeholders in the course of this work. Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
She joined the ACLU in 2006 as a staff attorney, where she subsequently secured a landmark settlement on behalf of immigrant children from around the world detained in a privately-run prison in Texas that ultimately led to the end of “family detention” at the facility.
Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law, where later she taught a civil rights clinic for several years.