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Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at the Farewell Ceremony for Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon.

There are certain people in life who are so talented and universally beloved that they are recognized by a single name:

Oprah, Cher, Beyonce, Bono, Adele — and my favorite, Taylor.

For the Justice Department and its civil rights and law enforcement partners, there is only one such person: Vanita.

Betsy, thank you for kicking off this farewell celebration of our very own one-name icon.

We are honored to be joined today by the people who gave her that name: her parents. We are also honored to be joined by Vanita’s sister, and by Vanita’s husband and their children.

Thank you all for everything you have done to support Vanita over the past three years. You should be so proud of everything she has done to pursue justice for all Americans.

I know the sacrifices the family has made — especially regarding family vacations. As I vividly recall, even when Vanita was on one of those rare vacations, there she was on-screen at our daily leadership meetings — live from Rafael Nadal’s Tennis Academy in Mallorca, Spain.

Neither a vacation on a Spanish island nor the chance to be trained at a facility founded by a tennis legend could stand between Vanita and her commitment to her work.

And I am grateful to Chinh for not telling her that the training sessions that Rafael personally led took place during those morning meetings.

I also want to recognize and thank all the Department’s outside stakeholders and partners who have joined us this afternoon. I know you are just as sad as we are about Vanita’s departure. And just as grateful for her service.

Since Vanita, Lisa, and I rejoined the Justice Department, the Department has had three priorities: to uphold the rule of law, to keep our country safe, and to protect civil rights.

But it is not just what we do at the Justice Department, but how we do it that matters.

Over the course of the five tours of duty I have served here, I have been privileged to work alongside some of the Department’s legendary public servants.

And I can testify from meeting with Vanita nearly every day for the past three years, that she belongs in those ranks.

She has skillfully managed 13 of the Department’s critical components. Across components that cover a diverse range of important issues, Vanita has served as a unifying force.

As a lifelong civil rights lawyer, she has helped to ensure that the Department’s responsibility to protect civil rights does not rest in just one component, but rather is infused in all of the work that all of us do.

Across all of our civil litigating and grantmaking components, Vanita has prioritized an approach that centers its impact on people:

  • People who rely on the Department’s work to ensure that polluters are held accountable for poisoning their communities;
  • Consumers and workers who rely on the Department’s work to protect competition;
  • Victims and survivors who rely on the Department’s work to fund essential programs and services;
  • Police officers who rely on DOJ grants and technical assistance for everything from tactical training to support for officer wellness; and
  • Victims of hate crimes and other civil rights violations who rely on the Department for protection.

Among her many accomplishments, Vanita stood up and led the Department’s Reproductive Rights Taskforce to defend the reproductive freedoms protected by federal law.

She has been a leader in our work to combat violent crime and gun violence and to support the victims of crime.

She has facilitated the Department’s efforts to advance a criminal justice system that both keeps people safe and reflects a commitment to equal justice under law.

And she has thoughtfully and diligently led the Department’s work pursuing fair and just settlements in complex civil litigation.

Inside the Department, Vanita has led in a way that has made her a partner to everyone who works for or with her.

And outside the Department, she has led in a way that has made her a partner to everyone who works with her and with the Department.

Vanita has visited, listened to, and strengthened the Department’s relationships with our Tribal partners.

She has brought together the Department’s essential partners in the civil rights community and in the law enforcement community with honesty, humility, and respect.

And in all of her work, Vanita’s approach to tackling complex and difficult challenges has been to create more space, for more people to be heard and seen.

I have seen this again and again in our travels together across the country.

I saw this when we traveled last summer to Minneapolis, and last spring to Louisville, to announce the Department’s findings in two separate pattern-or-practice investigations.

I saw this when we traveled to Buffalo to announce hate crimes charges after a horrific shooting targeting the Black community of Buffalo. There, Vanita offered the grieving families and survivors her compassion and empathy.

And in our travels together to Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Baton Rouge, I have seen up close Vanita’s leadership of the DOJ programs dedicated to combating violent crime and supporting officer safety and wellness.

Most recently, Vanita and I met with the survivors and loved ones of the victims of the horrific mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

There, Vanita again listened and responded with care and compassion as survivors and families spoke about the unimaginable loss and pain they had endured.

And I saw how her work, over many months, ensured that our final review was comprehensive and fair, and honored the memories of the victims.

In responding to some of the most difficult and urgent challenges facing the Department over the past three years, I have consistently relied on Vanita’s counsel and advice.

I am grateful to have had her by my side.

Vanita, Lisa, and I began this journey together on January 7, 2021, when the President announced our respective nominations. Since then, the three of us have been inseparable — working together to manage the Department’s components and to support the 115,000 people who strive to advance the Department’s mission every day.

At my confirmation hearing, a month and a half after our nomination, Senators asked me about Vanita. I told them that:

“I know Vanita Gupta now quite well. I didn’t know her before. But since the nomination, I’ve gotten the chance to talk with her. I have to tell you [that] I regard her as a person of great integrity and [as] a person who is dedicated to the mission of the Department, and particularly [to] equal justice under law.”

Now that I know Vanita even better, I would have a few more things to say:

I would say that she is one of the hardest working, most dedicated public servants with whom I have ever worked.

I would say that her skill as a lawyer is matched only by the empathy and compassion with which she approaches her work.

I would say that Vanita represents the very best of who we are at the Justice Department.

By which I mean that she lives by the biblical admonition: “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” She knows that we must pursue just ends, but only through just means.

And I would say that she is more than just a wonderful colleague — she is wonderful friend.

Vanita, it is killing me that you are leaving.

But I know, from personal experience, that those who have DOJ’s mission in their hearts cannot stay away for long. So, I look forward to your return, sooner or later.

Now, if the Justice Department’s one-name icon and her family could please join me on the stage.

Vanita, in recognition of your outstanding service to the Justice Department, I am pleased to give you the Justice Department’s highest prize — the Edmund J. Randolph Award, named for the first Attorney General of the United States.

The inscription reads: xxx

We also have a plaque for you from OAG.

This inscription reads: xxx

Thank you Vanita, from the bottom of my heart, for your tireless pursuit of justice on behalf of the American people.

Updated February 12, 2024