Mark Holden: Vanita Gupta’s nomination as associate attorney general deserves the support of all conservatives

Mike Lee should support nomination of attorney who helped pass sentencing reform law.

Associate Attorney General nominee Vanita Gupta speaks during an event with President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

[My] time as a prosecutor also tells me that not every criminal is dangerous or incapable of living a productive life. My faith as a Christian teaches me that many people are capable of redemption. And my instincts as a conservative make me believe that the government can be reformed to work better. For those reasons, I believe the First Step Act is legislation that deserves the support of all conservatives.

- Sen. Mike Lee, Nov. 27, 2018

Until the end of 2019, I served as the general counsel and senior vice president of Koch Industries Inc. A significant portion of my career has been dedicated to working on criminal justice reform.

Along the way, I have worked with honorable and transformative conservatives like Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. These are men of profound faith and conviction, who have been integral in the national effort to reform some of our broken criminal justice laws, to bring healing to broken families deeply affected by unfair laws, and to make sure that taxpayer funds were used with fiscal prudence without compromising public safety.

The first call I received after the 2016 election was from Grassley, who was wondering whether we [Koch] were still interested in criminal justice reform. My answer was, “Yes, sir!” And he said he was too — despite political headwinds going the other direction.

Both Grassley and Lee have my deepest gratitude for their steadfast commitment, and not just for their leadership with bipartisan passage of the First Step Act, but also for seeking to do justice when there was injustice in plain sight.

Along the way, I have also worked with individuals from the unlikeliest of places, such as Vanita Gupta, now President Joe Biden’s nominee to serve as associate attorney general, the number 3 official to lead the Justice Department. I hold Vanita in the highest regard. The First Step Act would not have passed without her. And she is held in my highest esteem precisely for the same reasons I praise Lee and Grassley.

Vanita is the daughter of immigrants. She grew up in Pennsylvania and became one of the most significant and consequential civil rights lawyers in America. Even before she embarked on becoming a national leader and a household name (at least in legal circles), I met Vanita. She was a young lawyer at the ACLU, working on criminal justice reform before it was popular to convene “bipartisan” discussions about it.

We come from different backgrounds and have different policy views, but I realized early on that we share the same values. We both believe in redemption for people. We both believe in fairness and equality — the belief that injustice to one individual is injustice to all of us. And we hit it off, working together for what has now become decades on things such as Sixth Amendment issues, cash bail reform and fair sentencing.

I commonly refer to Vanita as a “warrior” — not in the partisan sense, but because she truly is a justice-seeking warrior. She relentlessly pursues the common good and refuses to give up on people. And she refuses to let partisan lines prevent honorable service and good will. I deeply admire her as a lawyer and as a human being.

So it has pained and bothered me to see unfounded attacks made against this honorable woman. And I am writing because I cannot stand for it. Just like Lee and Grassley, Gupta is a profoundly principled person who will serve with honor and integrity. She is a problem solver who has served on the front lines of reform while seeking to hold government accountable where needed.

But please, don’t just believe me. Believe also the multitude of conservatives who personally know and, like me, have worked with Gupta for decades. In fact, It has been incredible to witness how leaders far and wide — from police chiefs, to sheriffs, to reform advocates — have rallied to publicly support Gupta’s nomination, because they know the truth about her. And the truth is this: Vanita Gupta deserves the support of all conservatives to serve in the president’s Justice Department leadership team.

Mark Holden

Mark Holden is the former general counsel and senior vice president of Koch Industries.