Vanita Gupta is an experienced leader and litigator who has devoted her entire career to civil rights work. Most recently, from October 15, 2014, to January 20, 2017, she served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Appointed by President Barack Obama as the chief civil rights prosecutor for the United States, Gupta oversaw a wide range of criminal and civil enforcement efforts to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all during one of the most consequential periods for the division.
Under Gupta’s leadership, the division did critical work in a number of areas, including advancing constitutional policing and criminal justice reform; prosecuting hate crimes and human trafficking; promoting disability rights; protecting the rights of LGBTQ individuals; ensuring voting rights for all; and combating discrimination in education, housing, employment, lending, and religious exercise. She regularly engaged with a broad range of stakeholders in the course of this work.
Selected high profile matters during her tenure included the investigations of the Ferguson, Baltimore, and Chicago police departments; the appeals of the Texas and North Carolina voter ID cases; the challenge to North Carolina’s HB2 law and other transgender rights litigation; enforcement of education, land use, hate crimes, and other statutes to combat Islamophobia and other forms of religious discrimination; the issuance of statements of interest on bail and indigent 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.
Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director and the Director of the Center for Justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She joined the ACLU in 2006 as a staff attorney, where she subsequently secured a landmark settlement on behalf of immigrant children from around the world detained in a privately-run prison in Texas that ultimately led to the end of “family detention” at the facility. In addition to managing a robust litigation docket at the ACLU, Gupta created and led the organization’s Smart Justice
Campaign aimed at ending mass incarceration while keeping communities safe. She worked with law enforcement agencies, corrections officials, advocates, stakeholders, and elected officials across the political spectrum to build collaborative support for pretrial, drug, and sentencing policies that make our federal, state, and local criminal justice systems more effective and more just.
Gupta began her legal career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, where she successfully led the effort to overturn the wrongful drug convictions of 38 individuals in Tulia, Texas, who were ultimately pardoned by Governor Rick Perry. She then helped negotiate a $6 million settlement on behalf of her clients. She also consulted with European civil society organizations working to advance the rights of the Roma.
Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law, where later she taught a civil rights clinic for several years.
She is married to Chinh Q. Le and they have two young sons.
Seema Nanda is executive vice president and chief operating officer. Before joining The Leadership Conference, Nanda was Chief of Staff to Secretary Tom Perez at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). She also served at the DOL as deputy solicitor and as deputy chief of staff and senior counselor to Secretary Perez, serving as top advisor on immigration, workforce development, and internal management issues. Before joining DOL, Nanda led the Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Prior to that, she worked as an attorney and supervisory attorney at the National Labor Relations Board, Division of Advice. Her experience also includes practicing labor and employment law in Seattle and serving on the board of directors of several nonprofit organizations. Nanda is a graduate of Boston College Law School and Brown University and a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
Kristine Lucius is executive vice president for policy at The Leadership Conference. Lucius is well known in Washington government and policy circles having worked in all three branches of the federal government, including 14 years with the Senate Judiciary Committee as then-Chairman Leahy’s top legal and policy advisor. She is an expert on judicial and executive nominations and many other complex legislative issues including comprehensive immigration reform, online privacy, cyber security, criminal justice reform, civil justice reform, bankruptcy, antitrust and prescription drug pricing. Lucius is skilled at forming effective bipartisan coalitions to get a wide range of legislation signed into law. Among those successful efforts were the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization Act, the FOIA Improvement Act, the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, the USA FREEDOM Act, and the Justice for All Act. In 2015, she was named by the National Journal as one of the 20 Most Powerful Women Staffers on Capitol Hill. Before working for the Senate, Ms. Lucius worked in private practice with Jenner & Block, clerked for judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and served in the Office of Policy Development at the U.S. Department of Justice. Lucius is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the Georgetown University Law Center.
Ellen Buchman is executive vice president for field and communications at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. Ms. Buchman oversees field and communications staff who develop and carry out strategies for the coalition’s public education, rapid response, communications, and field organizing and outreach campaigns on a number of priority issues, including but not limited to voting rights, criminal justice reform, equity in education, economic security, affirmative action, federal judicial nominations, and other critical issues in the coalition. Further, Ms. Buchman, who has formal training in leadership development and social work, has authored numerous training materials and curricula, as well as conducted numerous trainings and talks in both domestic and international seminars, conferences, and classes. She has been a member of the staff of The Leadership Conference and The Education Fund since 2003 and is a graduate of the University of Michigan.
Ashley Allison is a senior advisor at The Leadership Conference. Allison brings over a decade of outreach, community organizing and campaign experience, along with an expertise in crisis management, coalition building, and strategic planning. From July 2014 to January 2017, she was the deputy director and senior policy advisor under Valerie Jarrett in the White House Office of Public Engagement. Her portfolio included managing a team that worked with the LGBTQ, Muslim, faith, African-American, disability, and entertainment communities. Allison’s primary policy focus at the White House was criminal justice and policing reform. Prior to joining government, she worked on healthcare enrollment and partner engagement at the non-profit Enroll America and on President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign doing statewide African-American voter outreach in Ohio. Allison is a graduate of Ohio State University. She also spent seven years in New York earning her Juris Doctorate from Brooklyn Law School and Masters in Education from Long Island University while she working as a high school special education teacher in Brooklyn.