Associate Attorney General Nominee Questioned Over Partisan Record

March 10, 2021 Updated: March 10, 2021

Republicans questioned associate attorney general nominee Vanita Gupta during a hearing Tuesday over her record of partisan attacks.

In her opening statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee Gupta said she would work to uphold the Constitution and not any partisan agenda.

“If confirmed, I will aggressively ensure that the Justice Department is independent of partisan influence,” she said. “That independence is part of a long tradition, and it is vital to the fair administration of justice and preserving the public’s trust and confidence in our legal system.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) questioned Gupta about her positions on abortion, gun rights, and religious liberty; all issues Cruz said Gupta had taken strong ideological stances on in the past.

“As I look at your record on every single issue, the positions you’ve advocated for are on the extreme left,” said Cruz.

Gupta did not answer Cruz’s question directly, but rather made general statements about following the law.

“Senator, if confirmed as associate attorney general, my duty will be to enforce laws,” Gupta said.

She also evaded questions from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) on whether she supported ending qualified immunity for police, a position she has publicly favored in the past.

She advocated defunding the police in a seminar in June, stating that governments have “skewed funding priorities.”

US-POLITICS-CONGRESS-SECURITY-WRAY
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) speaks in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 2, 2021. (Graeme Jennings/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite this, the longtime civil rights lawyer has the backing of some law enforcement organizations including Major County Sheriffs of America. The president of the National Sheriff’s Association, David Mahoney, has also endorsed Gupta.

“I strongly believe that Ms. Gupta is exactly the type of leader who is needed in the Justice Department today. She possesses immense credibility among law enforcement leaders and community leaders. She is an effective communicator and bridge-builder,” Mahoney wrote in a March 1 letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Gupta led the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division during President Barack Obama’s second term.

She has also made strong statements against Republicans in the past.

“Her Twitter feed has painted Republicans with a broad brush, describing our national convention last year as three nights of ‘racism, xenophobia, and outrageous lies,'” Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said during his opening remarks.

“Would that kind of partisan political advocacy affect her legal advocacy in a role where she represents all Americans?” Grassley said.

Gupta apologized on Tuesday for some of her past rhetoric and pledged that she would be impartial in her new position.

“I think the rhetoric has gotten quite harsh over the last several years, and I have fallen prey to it, and I wish I could take it back. I can’t,” Gupta responded. “I can pledge to you today that if I’m confirmed or regardless, you won’t be hearing that kind of rhetoric from me.”

On the question of accepting an apology for negative remarks made in the past, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) reminded Gupta that she wrote in 2018 that the Senate should reject an apology from judicial nominee Ryan Bounds for some of his past remarks while a student, saying that “the timing of that apology suggests it is one of convenience rather than remorse.”

In his introduction of Gupta, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) praised his fellow civil rights lawyer, saying that lawyers can go from being partisan to defending the law.

“So why couldn’t somebody with a civil rights background also be entrusted to take an oath and follow the law and fight for justice,” said Kaine.