Civil Rights

Vanita Gupta: The Civil Rights Division Head Libertarians Could Love?


A drug-war denouncing, prison-reform crusading, longtime civil-rights attorney is President Obama's new pick to head the Justice Department's civil rights division. Venita Gupta, 39, will take over as acting assistant attorney general for civil rights next week, and the White House will likely propose making it permanent within the next few months, according to The Washington Post.

Gupta has called the drug war "disastrous", the asset forfeiture program "broken", and police militarization "out of control". She supports marijuana decriminalization and eliminating mandatory minimum sentencing. "It's time for states to end the costly criminalization of marijuana and recalibrate sentencing laws so that the punishment actually fits the crime as opposed to a politician's reelection agenda," she wrote in a September op-ed for CNN. 

The civil rights division—which has been without a permanent head for more than a year—was created in 1957 "to uphold the civil and constitutional rights of all Americans" and investigates claims of discrimination based on race, sex, disability, religion, etc. It's the division that handles voting rights cases, helped end segregation in the South in the '60s, and is currently looking into the police department in Ferguson, Missouri. The division's "about" section, however, contains words that will to strike terror into any libertarian's heart: "Since its establishment, the Division has grown dramatically in both size and scope…".

Throughout the past few decades, its work has been largely unimpressive. "Under President George W. Bush, the division was plagued by scandal, largely due to leadership that was intent on keeping 'commies' and 'crazy libs' off the staff," writes George Washington University law profesor Michael Selmi in Politico magazine. In the Obama years,

… the nature of the cases brought by the division has not differed much from the Bush administration. In some areas the number of filings in traditional civil rights cases appears to be down—in some areas down significantly. The vast majority of the cases the division pursues involve individual victims of discrimination and very few major reform-oriented cases have been filed over the last six years. 

Under Eric H. Holder, however, the department has initiated double the number of investigations into police departments than it did under his predecssors. Gupta's record sparks hope that this focus on civil rights abuses perpetuated by the state will continue. At the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Gupta served as deputy legal director and director of the organization's Center for Justice. Before that she was an attorney for the ACLU's Racial Justice Program and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Her work includes aiding federal and state reform initiatives concerning drug policy, immigration, policing, sentencing, prisons, and overincarceration.

In her first case, Gupta helped overturn the drug convictions and lengthy sentences of 38 defendants in Tulia, Texas. This year, Gupta has been working with Families Against Mandatory Minimums, the American Bar Association, and others on the Clemency Project 2014, which aims "to restore the integrity" of the federal clemency process.

Gupta is also known for being able to work across partisan divides. At the ACLU, Gupta was able to work together with the American Legislative Exchange Council—a conservative group that hasn't always been ACLU-friendly—on sentencing reform. Grover Norquist told the Post that she "has played a strong role in the left-right cooperation in criminal justice issues," and the National Rifle Association's former president David Keene said she "both listens to and works with people from all perspectives to accomplish real good."

NEXT: How Does This Still Happen? Southern Oregon U. Students Not Allowed to Distribute Constitutions

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General libertarians could love?

    1. I gotta hand it to Vonnegut, if there was ever a perfect name for the Handicapper General, it would be “Diana Moon Glampers.”

  2. Sorry, but anyone this administration nominates, supports, promotes is suspect. And should be. Apologies to the few mostly innocent.

    1. I don’t know why Reason seems intent lately on pitching the “Obama…he’s not *that* bad” mentality that seems to be permeating many of their articles.

      He *is* that bad. He’s a wretched President and most of his appointees are wretched human beings (and crap at their jobs). His legislation is disastrous, his foreign policy is appalling, his negotiation and diplomatic skills are terrible, his work ethic is historically pathetic, and his abilities in all of the things that are allegedly his strengths (*cough* Constitutional scholar *cough*) appear to be fabrications.

      “Give Obama a chance” headlines at this point are even more annoying than the “millenials are secretly libertarian” false trope.

      1. You know, it’s very frustrating that a president and an administration that are so obviously inept, corrupt, and dishonest keep getting the kid gloves. Even now, the abuse is far less than it should be.

        I will say that as bad as Obama is, what makes things really bad is that we also have a historically bad Congress (now and when he was first elected), and Obama’s appointees are among the worst in U.S. history.

        1. Fully agreed about the kid gloves. After five and a half years of lies, lawbreaking, and pure ineptitude, I think it’s well past time that Obama or his appointees stopped getting the benefit of the doubt on anything. New appointee who pays lip service to libertarian-friendly ideas? BFD…lets’s see her do something about it before we give her any credit or sympathy.

          For why Obama gets away with it, I think the biggest problem is that we have a historically bad Senate Majority leader, who blatantly shirks his duties to cover for Obama. I don’t know what dirt Obama has on Reid (although I suspect those corruption allegations against Reid and Mike Lee play a role), but if anyone belongs in prison more than Obama and Holder, it’s Harry Reid. I’m no fan of Boehner or McConnell (who are both terrible) but the primary roadblock in Congress right now is one man in power who has simply decided to stop doing his job, in violation of the law.

          Seeing Reid stripped of his Majority Leader status is the *only* reason the prospect of a GOP takeover in November excites me.

          1. For why Obama gets away with it,

            Three words: first black preisdent.

            1. I don’t think that’s entirely it. If Herman Cain had won and was the first black President, I seriously doubt he’d be getting this kind of pass.

        2. As for the abuse, it’s just because if critics point out the obvious fact that Barack Obama was elected for no reason other than that he’s a black man who doesn’t sound like he’s from the ghetto, they’ll immediately be labeled as racists. Even though that’s exactly what Obama is, an affirmative action hire…he certainly didn’t get in based on the merit of his abilities, judgment, work ethic or accomplishments, because he doesn’t have any of those things.

          Of course it doesn’t help that a lot of the critics who are willing to point this out (like Rush Limbaugh) are notorious race-baiters who are just as obsessed with identity politics as any of the Dems who voted for Obama based primarily on his race. It’s tough to make a nuanced argument about the fact that Obama was hired primarily because of his race without getting lumped in with all of the critics who actually do despise him because he’s black (and those certainly do exist).

        3. I will say that as bad as Obama is, what makes things really bad is that we also have a historically bad Congress (now and when he was first elected),

          You should see the city council!

      2. I don’t know why Reason seems intent lately on pitching the “Obama…he’s not *that* bad” mentality that seems to be permeating many of their articles.

        Because the magazine is libertarian and wants to maintain its independence from the Teams. And when you are constantly going on about how godawful one of the teams is, you wind up looking you’re part of the Opposing Team.

        The thing is, sometimes the Opposing Team is right to oppose. Sometimes, as you say, they really are that bad. Then, trying to focus on the positive really does start to become rationalizing.

        Well, it’s either that or the proggies have better cocktail parties.

        1. Agreed. The problem with making a conscious effort to separate yourself from teams is that it’s very easy to compromise your critical thinking and perform bad analysis, because you’re more concerned about how your results will be perceived rather than whether your conclusions are correct. Personally, I care far more about being correct than being labeled a “GOP stooge” or “neocon” or whatever. Obama’s an incompetent asshole and most of his policies and appointments are horrific…he should be treated as such, and so should his resulting policies and appointments.

          His apologists are going to make those claims of bias regardless of whether Reason’s or my arguments are right or wrong. Humoring the ad hominem fallacies of politician worshippers seems a poor payoff for making compromised arguments.

    2. Hey ProL, I hear Obama is thinking of nominating you for Censor, a new position he’s going to create to help rein in the government. Now I’m even more suspicious of you than I already was.

      1. You sure that position wasn’t “Cypher”? Cause that seems more up ProL’s alley.

        1. It was actually “Sensor”, because of the feelz.

      2. One does not “appoint” the Censor. One merely submits to his righteous authority.


          1. You do well to fear me while I hold the Scepter of Censoring. I get a plus ten to hit.

            1. *hides under Cloak of Shadows*

            2. The fact that you seem to be in a Tom Hanks-ian world of Mazes and Monsters is just another warning sign, ProL. You’re too unstable!

              1. That was one stupid movie. How did that happen? Also, pre- or post Bosom Buddies?

                1. Pre Bosom Buddies, which means pre Donna Dixon.

                  1. You mean, pre-Mrs. Dan Akroyd.

                    1. Pre-new Bluesmobile or post-new Bluesmobile?

  3. Yeah, no.

    I’ll be impressed when they eliminate this division, as well as all the Affirmative Action laws.

    So – I’m not impressed with her – or anyone else – being appointed to a position that shouldn’t exist.

  4. So far during his administration, we’ve heard this same line about too many of his hires who turn out to be nothing a libertarian could love. The only one who’s come close to being good that I can think of, off the top of my head, is Sonia Sotomayor…and even she’s not that great.

    I no longer give Obama appointees the benefit of the doubt when they *say* they support pro-liberty policies. I’ll believe it when I actually see them *support* pro-liberty policies.

    1. Right. Hey, didn’t we get similar articles from Reason about Eric Holder and John Kerry?

      1. “Weigel’d again!”

      2. If there’s one thing I enjoy about Reason, it’s that there’s an underlying optimism to their worldview. Reason is always looking for that diamond in the rough…even though you’re far more likely to find a lump of shit in the tall grass than anything you’d want to pick up.

        I do think they should stop looking for diamonds in the rough that is the Obama administration, however. So far, I can only think of one (Sotomayor), and she’s more of a turquoise or a garnet at this point than a diamond. Some nice qualities to her, and some value, but not something you’d want for every occasion.

        1. On the plus side, they were pretty hard on Elena Kagan — and she has been exactly as bad as Reason writers predicted, so they’re not all bad.

          I’d say Reason’s main weak points (from a coverage standpoint) are quixotic ideas about allying with segments of what are considered the leftist coalition and/or politicians, a ‘court libertarian’ feeling to some of their articles (CATO has that problem sometimes, too) and their reluctance to let ‘er rip when it comes to media or beltway personalities they might know. (I was pleasantly surprised with their recent articles on that shitbird Ezra Klein.)

          1. Agreed about Kagan.

            For the court libertarian mentality, I get why they do it…they’re trying to overcome the image of libertarians as angry, white, misanthropes who can’t get along with anyone. But I think they go too far in humoring people in power who are just stupid and should simply be mocked and ridiculed for the idiotic things they say. They have done this, but sometimes I think they need to be a bit nastier and more frequent about it.

            Their Ezra Klein articles were good.

          2. The main distortion that’s been true of both Reason & CATO has been their drive to differentiate themselves from existing major political elements?Democrat & Republican, “liberal” & “conservative”?by trying to appear equidistant from them, and therefore over-emphasizing differences with the “right”. That wasn’t a flaw in the 1970s, but since then the “left” has gotten so much farther away, and therefore the “right” relatively (maybe even absolutely) nearer, that it’s now unrealistic.

        2. That’s been true of Reason pretty much as long as it’s been published except possibly for a decade or so starting middle 1990s.

          1. Who was the editor of ‘Reason’ during that decade?

            I’m sure it was better then.

  5. “the division was plagued by scandal, largely due to leadership that was intent on keeping ‘commies’ and ‘crazy libs’ off the staff”

    What’s with the scare quotes? This is one of the govt departments which would draw crazy libs and commies like moths to a flame. Keeping such folks away *ought* to be a priority.

    1. (the difference is that, unlike moths, crazy libs and commies would *thrive* in this particular flame)

    2. “the division was plagued by scandal, largely due to leadership that was intent on keeping ‘commies’ and ‘crazy libs’ off the staff”

      While I strongly believe in the rights of people to believe in and practice communism in their personal lives (because it’s a fundamental freedom to be allowed to believe stupid things), I have no problem with keeping them out of government.

      I’m willing to accept my personal hypocrisy in collectively condemning communists and “crazy libs”…history has shown quite clearly that they’re horrible people in whom to invest governmental powers.

    3. Came here to say just that. If I were President, my Cabinet would have full backing for a purge of their departments of the ideologically inclined. In a sane libertarian regime, open communists in positions of government authority would be as scarce as Jews in Spain were after the Inquisition.

      1. In a sane libertarian regime, open communists in positions of government authority would be as scarce as Jews in Spain were after the Inquisition.

        I’m sorry, but doesn’t this analogy, as written, imply that the Inquisition was sane libertarian policy?

        1. That’s the thing about defenses of the Spanish Inquisition — you never expect it!

          That comment, like 99.999999999% of all internet comments about the Spanish Inquisition, was extremely tongue in cheek. Excluding an open commie (or for that matter, an open SoCon) from leadership in the public sector is a little different than exiling millions of your subjects from your country for no good reason, or any of the many other sundry activities of the Inquisition. Government service is not a right; since the main task of government should be to provide justice, employees with an ideological hair up their ass would be counterproductive to that goal as they may prioritize their ideology over the concerns of justice.

          1. I figured that was your angle, and agree…I was just pointing out that your analogy’s phrasing might not read like you’d intended. 🙂

          2. I, for one, am all for sending commies to “re-education” camps.

            Then I can use my slave children for their precious bone-monocles.

  6. Great. A Cis person.

    Wake me up when the administration catches up with 2014.

  7. Here’s the problem with the civil rights division:

    It is focused almost exclusively on the private sector. Only a tiny minority of its work targets government actors.

    It is a vehicle for enforcing positive rights, not negative rights. For that reason, it is (or should be) mostly an abomination in the eyes of libertarians.

    1. ^this is what i meant

    2. Excellent – well said. Exactly this.

    3. It was my understanding that only the private sector could even violate civil rights.

  8. ‘Civil Rights’ these days seems to mean rectifying ‘free tampons for women’ more than ‘cops shooting unarmed people’.

    So yeah, no.

    1. What you said, too, GILMORE.

    2. Are you sure that’s where tampons go? Wait, nevermind.

      1. Yeah, “King of New York” came to mind after i said that

        1. What a GREAT fucking movie. I DVR’ed this again the other day to watch for the…100th time.

          Christopher W dancing and killing people = teh awsum

  9. Elizabeth,

    Show me a single case this woman supported that isn’t also seen as a racial issue? She looks to me like a typical Holder disciple who thinks civil rights laws only protect favored minorities. Yeah, that puts her on the right side of things when favored minorities really are having their civil rights trampled. That does not however make her a good choice for this job.

    1. Because civil rights for minorities is EVUL!

      1. Were you born a fat, slimy, scumbag puke piece o’ shit, or did you have to work on it?

        1. I always read this line in the voice of Jim Rome.

      2. How about civil rights for minorities and majorities?

        1. So her attacks on the failed Drug War solely benefit minorities?

          1. Sure you wanna keep playing, shreek? The game’s always between you and getting called a cunt. That dropped eye of yours looks like the hood on a cunt to me, shreek. When you talk, your mouth looks like a cunt moving.

      3. Because civil rights special privileges for minorities is EVUL!

        Yes. Yes, they are.

    2. Check your privilege and stop mansplaining, John.

    3. She looks to me like a typical Holder disciple who thinks civil rights laws only protect favored minorities.

      To be fair, civil rights laws do, in point of fact, create protected classes of minorities, the enforcement of which falls on this department. Which is a good reason to oppose the department entirely, as was said above. ENB is the prototypical tumblr SJW with a slightly less itchy trigger finger, but in libertopia this entire department and entire set of laws wouldn’t even exist, so it’s hard to get excited by whatever ass happens to be warming the seat at any given point in time.

  10. Is her appointment subject to Senate approval? If not, I guess it would be too much to expect O.G.L. to appoint someone better.

  11. In prog-speak, civil rights are about forcing bakeries to make wedding cakes for trans queer couples and not about protecting things like gun rights, or property rights.

    But hey, maybe they’ll occasionally do something about police abuse.

    1. Do you think this guy would force a bakery to make a wedding cake for trans-queers?

      Acts 18:12 And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat, Saying, This fellow persuadeth men to worship God contrary to the law. And when Paul was now about to open his mouth, Gallio said unto the Jews, If it were a matter of wrong or wicked lewdness, O ye Jews, reason would that I should bear with you: But if it be a question of words and names, and of your law, look ye to it; for I will be no judge of such matters.

      And he drave them from the judgment seat.

      Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the chief ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. And Gallio cared for none of those things.

      Everytime I hear someone say “an administrator libertarians could love” my mind goes to Gallio.

  12. She is ACLU. Only the Peanut Gallery claims to be libertarian and hates on the ACLU like conservatives are inclined to do.


    1. What?

      1. It has no idea what it means.

      2. Wingnuts hate the ACLU. Many “libertarians” here hate the ACLU.

        You do the math.

        1. What you’ve just said… is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever seen. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having seen it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul…

          1. Fuck you. You are just another Team Red jackass.

            1. Fuck you. You are just another Team Red jackass.

              Whined the Obama apologist with the victim mentality.

            2. the ACLU’s 2nd amendment position sounds like it was written by Jefferson Davis:

              The national ACLU Board of Directors has in fact discussed the civil liberties aspects of the Second Amendment many times. We believe that the constitutional right to bear arms is primarily a collective one, intended mainly to protect the right of the states to maintain militias to assure their own freedom and security against the central government. In today’s world, that idea is somewhat anachronistic and in any case would require weapons much more powerful than handguns or hunting rifles. The ACLU therefore believes that the Second Amendment does not confer an unlimited right upon individuals to own guns or other weapons nor does it prohibit reasonable regulation of gun ownership, such as licensing and registration.

              1. I’ll bet Jefferson Davis had a much better 2nd amentment position than that.

              2. SCOTUS has already decided exactly the opposite. You’d think they’d at least bother to update their language to reflect that.

                Don’t forget the ACLU loves them some insurance mandates too.

                Oh, and supports 1A shredding campaign finance law.

                Libertarian as fuuuuuuuck.

        2. Haha…”libertarian”. As if you’re intelligent enough to figure out what does and doesn’t qualify someone to be categorized as that, buttplug. 🙂

        3. I don’t think there’s too many here who “hate” the ACLU. Hell, I’ve donated to them in the past. Many of us do have a problem with the fact that their commitment to, you know, actual civil liberties, has grown spotty in recent years.

        4. Potatoes have no cognizance. shreeeek has no cognizance. You do the math.

  13. The Civil Rights Division Head Libertarians Could Love?

    Sorry, ENB, we’re not capable of love. At best we’re capable of occasional erections. You of all people should know this.

    1. Oh, that reminds me, I picked up your Viagra refill at the pharmacy for you like you asked.

    2. Occasional?!

      You say this as if there’s a time when having a raging erection would be inappropriate. Consult your doctor if you experience an erection lasting longer than 4 hours, my ass!

      1. Hell, I consult my doctor whenever I have an erection that doesn’t last four hours, minimum.

        1. A weak man’s priapism is a real man’s symbol of superior endurance and virility. 🙂

    3. Lu….what is this word you speak of? Is it anything like the burning of the Pon-Farr?

  14. this is what bureaucracy looks like. very political people deciding which laws will be enforced on whom.

  15. Can she help me with my Dell Computer over the phone in a voice I can understand?

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.