Christina Lee, Photography Editor

Vanita Gupta ’96, former associate attorney general of the United States, visited the Sterling Law Building on Thursday evening for a discussion about her work in the Department of Justice.

The discussion, which was off the record, was co-hosted by the Yale Law Democrats, the South Asian Law Students Association, the reproductive justice group If/When/How, the Election Law Society and the American Constitution Society. According to Yale Law Democrats President Sage Mason LAW ’24, at the event, Gupta discussed her journey from law school to the American Civil Liberties Union, the Civil Rights Division, the Leadership Conference and her tenure as an associate attorney general.

“We invited Vanita Gupta because she could offer unique insights and reflections as a leader at the forefront of the fight for justice and civil rights,” Yale Law Democrats president Sage Mason LAW ’24 told the News. “It was a rare opportunity to engage with such a high-level official so soon after the conclusion of their government service.”

Gupta pursued her undergraduate studies at Yale College before obtaining her law degree from New York University School of Law in 2001. Following law school, from 2006 to 2010, Gupta served as a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. During this time, she concentrated on systemic criminal justice reform, immigration detention and education litigation. She achieved a settlement on behalf of immigrant children detained at a privately run prison in Texas, ultimately resulting in the end of family detention in that facility.

In October 2014, former President Barack Obama appointed Gupta as the United States assistant attorney general for civil rights and head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. She made history again when President Joe Biden nominated her on Jan. 7, 2021, to serve as the United States associate attorney general, becoming the first woman of color in that role. Confirmed by the Senate on April 21, 2021, Gupta became the 19th United States associate attorney general. In this capacity, she oversaw several divisions of the Department of Justice, including civil litigating divisions such as the Civil Division and the Civil Rights Division, as well as various grantmaking components and offices.

Gupta completed her tenure in the position on Feb. 2.

“I’m inspired by her leadership as the first woman of color to hold a top three leadership position in the Department of Justice,” Michelle Charles LAW ’26 told the News.

Charles, who is the incoming president of the Black Law Students Association, told the News that her attendance at the event was driven by her aspirations in civil rights law. She said that she sought Gupta’s perspective, given his extensive experience as both an impact litigator and a government attorney in the realm of civil rights.

Indu Pandey LAW ’26, a member of If/When/How, told the News that because Gupta was the chair of the Department of Justice’s Reproductive Rights task force after Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the case that overturned the constitutional right to an abortion, the group thought it would be “fruitful” for their members to attend the discussion.

Pandey added that there are currently two cases at the Supreme Court related to reproductive rights that Gupta worked on during her time in the Department of Justice and therefore, Pandey said, it was “fascinating to hear about the life-cycles of those cases from her and the DoJ’s perspective.”

Gevin Reynolds LAW ’26, who was elected to be the next president of the Yale Law Democrats, told the News that he was excited to welcome Gupta back to campus.

As a lawyer and a leader, she has dedicated her career to strengthening our nation’s civil rights protections. Hearing her reflect on her work inside and outside of government inspired our members to keep fighting for justice, no matter where we might find ourselves working,” Reynolds told the News. 

He added the Yale Law Democrats were excited to partner with organizations like the South Asian Law Students Association, the American Constitutional Society and If/When/How on this event, and that under his leadership next year, the group will “continue to look for ways to build a coalition through the events we put on.” 

This past academic year, the Yale Law Democrats have hosted events with Mayor Justin Elicker, Zayn Siddique LAW ’16, former principal deputy of the Domestic Policy Council and former Biden White House Council Stuart Delery LAW ’93.

Overall, the event’s organizers expressed that they were pleased with how Gupta’s discussion turned out. 

“The events were both hugely successful, providing an opportunity to engage intimately with ASG Gupta and the legal issues she’s dealt with throughout her storied career,” Mason said. “At the Yale Law Democrats general body meeting following our dinner talk with ASG Gupta, we also had the chance to reflect on this past year, set the course for the year ahead, and introduce our incredible new board members.”

Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale College.

Adam Walker is the University Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered Yale Law School for the University desk. Originally from Long Island, New York, he is a rising junior in Branford College double majoring in Economics and American Studies.