WASHINGTON — The Senate voted Wednesday to confirm the nomination of Vanita Gupta for associate attorney general despite nearly unified opposition from Republicans.
“It’s very good news for the forces of equality and justice in the country,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the chamber floor moments after Gupta was confirmed by a 51-49 vote, largely along party lines. Moderate Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, voted along with the Democrats.
Earlier in the day, the Senate advanced Gupta’s nomination for the Justice Department’s No. 3 spot in a 51-49 vote after Murkowski joined all Democrats in bringing the nomination to a vote and vowed to back her confirmation. Murkowski’s support meant Vice President Kamala Harris was not needed to break a tie.
The final confirmation vote comes almost a month after the Senate Judiciary Committee took a 11-11 party-line vote on her nomination, which required the Senate to vote last week to discharge the nomination from committee to allow it to come to the floor.
Gupta, who ran the Justice Department’s civil rights division as an associate attorney general during the Obama administration, will bring a “long overdue perspective” to the department, Schumer said Wednesday.
“Not only is Ms. Gupta the first woman of color to ever be nominated to the position, she is the first civil rights attorney ever to be nominated to the position — the third-ranking official in the Justice Department,” he said. “And just to give you a sense of Ms. Gupta’s commitment to civil rights and racial equity, in her very first case after law school, she won the release of several African Americans who had been wrongfully convicted by all-white juries in Texas.”
Explaining her support for Gupta in remarks on the Senate floor, Murkowski said that despite some “troubling and concerning” statements by the nominee, she is “a woman who I believe has demonstrated through her professional career to be deeply, deeply committed to matters of justice.”
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Wednesday that he would “strongly oppose” Gupta’s nomination, arguing that she has “repeatedly amplified left-wing fear-mongering toward judicial nominees and sitting federal judges” and “levied attacks on members of this body.”
McConnell also accused Gupta of employing “the loosest possible interpretation of her oath to deliver honest testimony” during her confirmation process and said her reputation “contrasts sharply” with that of Attorney General Merrick Garland, whom he voted to confirm.
“The White House needs to make a better choice for this key post,” he said. “The Senate should create that opportunity by voting no today.”
He later voted against Gupta’s nomination.
President Joe Biden praised Gupta, who serves as head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in his remarks Tuesday night following the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.
Biden said Gupta and Kristen Clarke, the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whom he nominated to run the Justice Department’s civil rights division, “are eminently qualified, highly respected lawyers who have spent their entire careers fighting to advance racial equity and justice.”
Gupta and Clarke have the experience and skill “to advance our administration’s priorities to root out unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system, and they deserve to be confirmed,” Biden said.
Many Republicans have voiced opposition to Clarke’s nomination as well.
Julie Tsirkin contributed.