Vanita Gupta was confirmed for the number three spot at the Justice Department in a narrow 51-49 vote.
Vice President Kamala Harris was on hand for a procedural vote Wednesday morning in case she was needed for a possible 50-50 tie.
Her vote, however, wasn’t necessary after Murkowski broke with her Republican colleagues and backed Gupta, first on a vote to move her nomination forward and then on the final confirmation.
Gupta is the first woman of color and first civil rights lawyer to hold to hold the DoJ position.
Other Republicans were united in their opposition to Gupta, citing her history of advocating for progressive policies, but Murkowski said she would give her the benefit of the doubt.
‘I asked her point blank, ‘Why do you want this? Is this worth it?’ Because this has clearly been very hard on her as a nominee,’ Murkowski said in a speech on the Senate floor. ‘And she paused and reflected a moment, and just spoke to how she feels called to serve in a very personal way that I thought was impactful.’
‘I am going to give the benefit of the doubt to a woman who I believe has demonstrated throughout her professional career to be deeply, deeply committed to matters of justice,’ Murkowski added.
Her vote also came after groups representing Alaska Native women, survivors of domestic violence and other communities said they supported Gupta’s nomination.
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski broke ranks and voted for President Joe Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general
Vanita Gupta was confirmed for the number three spot at the Justice Department in a 51-49 vote after nearly united GOP opposition against her for her support of progressive policies
Gupta sparked Republican fury for her past statements on Twitter criticizing members of their party and her comments on police reform during Black Lives Matter protests.
Gupta, in her confirmation hearings, denied she ever supported the defund the police movement.
‘I do not support defunding police,’ she said at the March hearing.
But a Washington Post fact check found that during her time as the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights advocacy group, Gupta was a high-profile critic of then-President Donald Trump and recommended a series of police changes during a Senate hearing last year.
She testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 2020 that it was ‘critical for state and local leaders to heed calls from Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists to decrease police budgets and the scope, role and responsibility of police in our lives’ and called for ‘shifting our approach to public safety away from exclusive investments in criminalization and policing toward investments in economic opportunity, education, health care and other public benefits.’
The Post found that to match the call to defund the police.
But Gupta was voted out of committee and then approved by the full Senate.
Democrats celebrated her confirmation.
‘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,’ Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said.
Biden praised Gupta on Tuesday night in his remarks after Derek Chauvin was found guilty on three counts of murder and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd.
He said Gupta was one of his Justice Department nominees ‘who are eminently qualified, highly respected lawyers who have spent their entire careers fighting to advance racial equity and justice.’
Biden noted Gupta and Kristen Clarke, his nominee to head the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division, have the ‘experience and the skill necessary to advance our administration’s priorities to root out unconstitutional policing and reform our criminal justice system, and they deserve to be confirmed.’
President Biden praised Gupta as one of his Justice Department nominees ‘who are eminently qualified, highly respected lawyers who have spent their entire careers fighting to advance racial equity and justice’
As associate attorney general at the Biden’s Justice Department, Gupta will play a pivotal role in supervising the department’s civil rights work, including an investigation announced by Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday into policing practices in Minneapolis following the murder of Floyd.
She will also be involved with overseeing the department’s civil, antitrust and environment and natural resources divisions.
Gupta served as acting assistant attorney general of the Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration, during which time she oversaw high-profile investigations into systemic abuses by police departments in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.
She faced a fraught confirmation process amid attacks by right-wing groups.
Republicans also criticized her.
‘This nomination has revealed a lengthy trail of radical claims and hasty backtracks,’ the Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, said on Wednesday ahead of the confirmation vote.
‘She’s levied attacks on members of this body, and during the confirmation process, she employed the loosest possible interpretation of her oath to deliver honest testimony,’ McConnell noted.