MINORITY 40 UNDER 40

Vanita Gupta | American Civil Liberties Union

The National Law Journal

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Just after graduating from New York University School of Law in 2001, Vanita Gupta saw a brief documentary about the arrest on drug charges of 38 African-Americans in a single day in a small town in Texas. Gupta, then a Soros Justice fellow at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was inspired. "I thought, this is crazy, this is exactly the kind the kind of case [the fund] should be investigating," she said. Soon after she flew to Texas and began digging through the court files, where she found that all of the cases were based solely on inconsistent testimony from a single white undercover officer. After the first seven defendants received sentences of between 40 and 300 years, other defendants had begun to plea. Thus began a legal effort that would make Tulia, Texas, synonymous with racial injustice, draw front-page coverage in The New York Times and leave Gupta coordinating a legal effort involving pro bono partners from major law firms. Two years later her effort was vindicated when Gov. Rick Perry pardoned 35 defendants.

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