Washington, DC (Aug. 10, 2017) – Civil rights pioneer Vanita Gupta was recently honored with the Justice Award from the Foundation for Criminal Justice (FCJ). The FCJ preserves and promotes the core values of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) and the American criminal justice system. The award was presented at the FCJ Awards Gala Dinner at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, CA on July 28. The theme of the evening was "For the Public Good: Pro Bono and Liberty's last Champions."
"Vanita Gupta's contributions to criminal law reform are precisely in the spirit of the Foundation's mission, and so we honor her and her work" said FCJ President Gerald B. Lefcourt.
FCJ and NACDL Executive Director Norman L. Reimer said: "No one in our time has done more to advance the cause of justice for all people than Vanita Gupta."
Ms. Gupta is a nationally recognized civil rights attorney who has devoted her entire career to protecting the rights of marginalized communities and fighting for equal justice for all. In March of this year, Ms. Gupta was selected to serve as president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. The Conference has been representing advocacy groups taking action on civil rights issues since its founding in 1950. She is the first woman and the first child of immigrants to hold this position.
Dinner Chair and Past NACDL President and FCJ Trustee Lisa Wayne introduced Ms. Gupta, saying: "It is the year of Wonder Woman and how befitting to honor one in our ranks."
In Ms. Gupta's keynote address, she thanked the FCJ, NACDL, and those in attendance and said: "I am privileged to be your partner in persisting for what is right, and not stopping short of victory. This work has always required a profound reservoir of hope. I see all of you, and I am hopeful. It is often in times of crisis that we find our strongest voice, our solidarity, our power to fight hardest – and most effectively – to preserve the rule of law, to protect the vulnerable, and above all, to make justice real. It is an honor to fight along with you."
Ms. Gupta's career has led her to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the ACLU Center for Justice. As Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU, she provided critical initial leadership in establishing Clemency Project 2014, an historic pro bono effort by thousands of volunteer lawyers to respond to President Obama's clemency initiative. The ACLU and the FCJ provided critical early funding for the Project, which submitted more than 2,500 petitions and secured sentence commutations for nearly 900 applicants. When Deputy Attorney General James Cole announced the criteria for the program in April 2014, Ms. Gupta criticized federal sentencing laws for "shatter[ing] families and wast[ing] millions of dollars." She noted that "too many people — particularly people of color — have been locked up for far too long for nonviolent offenses."
Ms. Gupta is perhaps best known for her work as the Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice. Following her appointment by President Obama in October 2014, she oversaw hundreds of cases related to LGBTQ rights, voting access, disability rights, hate crimes, and human trafficking, among others. Arriving just a few months after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Ms. Gupta led the Civil Rights Division's investigation of law enforcement departments in several cities, including Cleveland, Chicago, Baltimore, and Ferguson. In a number of these investigations, her department negotiated consent decrees with local police departments to promote justice for all citizens. Other selected high profile matters during her tenure included the appeals of the Texas and North Carolina voter ID cases; the challenge to North Carolina's HB2 law; the issuance of statements of interest on bail and public defense reform, and letters to state and local court judges and administrators on the unlawful imposition of fines and fees in criminal justice system; and the Administration's report on solitary confinement.
Ms. Gupta has received numerous recognitions for her advocacy and civil rights work. Most recently, she was awarded the Servant of Justice Award from the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia. Ms. Gupta is a magna cum laude graduate of Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law, where she also led a civil rights litigation clinic. The Foundation for Criminal Justice is proud to honor Vanita Gupta for her incomparable work to advance the cause of justice.
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The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.