Vanita Gupta Begins Tenure as Leadership Conference President, Announces Three New Senior Staff Members

Media 06.1,17

WASHINGTON – Today, Vanita Gupta, former head of the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice, begins her tenure as president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the nation’s premier civil and human rights coalition, and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, the coalition’s public education and communications arm. As she begins to build out her leadership team, Gupta announced the addition of three new senior staff members: Kristine Lucius, executive vice president for policy; Seema Nanda, executive vice president and COO; and Ashley Allison, senior advisor.

“I’m excited to begin this promising new chapter at The Leadership Conference, and I am proud to welcome such strong, accomplished advocates to the organization at this critical time for our nation,” Gupta said. “This great and diverse coalition represents the hopes and dreams of millions of Americans striving for better lives and serves as an example to the world of the important role that civil society plays in developing democracy. While we have many challenges in the days and years ahead of us, I’m confident that The Leadership Conference will continue the critical work of building an America as good as its ideals.” 

Gupta succeeds Wade Henderson, who stepped down on May 31 after 21 years of service as president and CEO. The Leadership Conference honored Henderson with the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil and Human Rights Award on May 17. Also stepping down are Karen Lawson, executive vice president and COO, after 30 years of service and Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president for policy, after 16 years of service.

Lucius, Nanda, and Allison will join Ellen Buchman, executive vice president for field and communications, as members of the senior leadership team. Buchman, who built the organization’s field department, joined The Leadership Conference in 2003.

Biographical Information

Vanita Gupta is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference. She has devoted her entire career to advancing civil rights. From October 15, 2014, to January 20, 2017, she served as Acting Assistant Attorney General and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General 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, including the prosecution of hate crimes, to ensure equal justice and protect equal opportunity for all. Prior to joining the Justice Department, Gupta served as Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). She joined the ACLU in 2006 as a staff attorney. Gupta began her legal career as an attorney at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. 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 litigation clinic for several years.

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.

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.

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.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit

The Leadership Conference Education Fund builds public will for federal policies that promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit