Deepak Gupta was in court once again this week in a role he seems increasingly comfortable filling: representing clients who are battling President Trump.
This week, Gupta was in court representing Leandra English, who claims she is acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. When Trump picked Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney to fill the position, English sued, arguing that as deputy director the law puts her in charge.
During Monday's hearing, English was nowhere to be seen, and all eyes were on Gupta, a 2002 graduate of Georgetown University's law school. Gupta told U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly that English is the rightful acting director of the CFPB even though Mulvaney had assumed command of the 1,600-person agency just hours earlier.
“The president purported to make an appointment,” Gupta told Kelly, asking the brand-new jurist to quickly declare that President Trump had no power to appoint Mulvaney and reject arguments from the Justice Department and CFPB attorneys.
The judge, confirmed by the Senate in September, said it seemed extraordinary to consider a temporary restraining order against the president.
“I don’t deny that it’s extraordinary,” Gupta responded.
It wasn't Gupta's first time arguing in court against Trump this year. In January, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington hired him to sue Trump after alleging the president is violating the Constitution’s obscure Foreign Emoluments Clause by accepting money from foreign governments through his businesses.
Gupta is backed on the CREW lawsuit by a prominent team including former presidential ethics lawyers Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, University of California at Berkeley law dean Erwin Chemerinsky, and Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe.
In November, Gupta urged a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to allow his client, alleged Trump University fraud victim Sherri Simpson, to separate herself from a larger class action case with a pending $25 million settlement.
In that case, Gupta has spoken optimistically about putting Trump on trial — something his client wants — for allegedly scamming students with exaggerated claims about the value of Trump University's instruction.
Gupta has taken on other notable cases aside from those actions against Trump.
He won two U.S. Supreme Court cases in which he was counsel of record this year. In June, he knocked down qualified immunity for Border Patrol agent who shot a Mexican teen, and in March, he won another ruling for New York merchants who said a state ban on credit card surcharges violates the First Amendment.
Paul Alan Levy, a prominent litigator at the Ralph Nader-founded advocacy group Public Citizen, where Gupta worked seven years after law school, recalls him as “bright, tenacious and articulate,” and said his departure was a “huge loss," though he's glad to watch his success.
Gupta left Public Citizen to work briefly at the CFPB. A biography on his law firm's website says he became in 2011 “the first appellate litigator hired under Elizabeth Warren’s leadership.”
Sen. Warren, D-Mass., was influential in setting up the bureau and backs English's claim to lead the CFPB over Mulvaney, a longtime critic of the bureau.
In 2012, Gupta established Gupta Wessler PLLC with law partner Matt Wessler as a vehicle for public-interest litigation, notably including a class-action lawsuit challenging the government’s charging of fees for access to court documents on the PACER platform.
Gupta did not respond to a request for comment for this story. He had good reason, as Judge Kelly scheduled a second in-person hearing on English's lawsuit for 4 p.m. on Tuesday. Gupta is pressing the judge to rule as early as this week in favor of English, who he said is continuing to report for work despite Mulvaney's presence.
After the initial Monday court hearing, Gupta told reporters he was working on hiring someone to respond to a flood of press inquiries. He wasn’t allowed to hold a press conference on the first floor of the courthouse but did so anyway. It’s unclear if he knew about the rule before being asked by a court employee to move the gaggle outdoors, where a group of TV cameras was waiting.
Gupta won’t say yet who is paying English’s legal bills in the unusual power-struggle between Trump and progressives, which focuses on conflicting readings of vacancy-filling procedures outlined in separate laws.
"We will be answering those questions," Gupta said about the person or entity paying his fees, but only later and in "the appropriate way."