ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel more
Deborah J. Vagins is the Senior Legislative Counsel on civil rights issues for the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. In this position, Vagins leads the office's advocacy efforts and develops pro-active strategies on pending federal legislation and executive branch actions concerning voting rights, racial justice, education and the school to prison pipeline, and employment discrimination. She works closely with coalition partners and key congressional, White House, and agency staff to advance a federal civil rights agenda.
Vagins has been instrumental in advocating for major civil rights laws, including the 2006 reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, among others. Currently, she co-chairs several national civil rights coalitions advocating for passage of bills such as the Democracy Restoration Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act. Vagins has also drafted and co-authored numerous congressional statements, articles, and reports including: Promises to Keep: The Impact of the Voting Rights Act; The Democracy Restoration Act: Addressing A Centuries-Old Injustice; Working in the Shadows: Ending Employment Discrimination for LGBT Americans; and Cracks in the System: Twenty Years of an Unjust Federal Crack Cocaine Law. Some of her reports have inspired town hall meetings across the country, and Vagins' words and work have been featured by The New York Times, C-SPAN, Washington Post, AP, CQ, NPR, Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and others.
Prior to joining the ACLU in 2005, Vagins served as the acting deputy general counsel and senior attorney-advisor to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The general counsel's office provided recommendations to the White House, Congress and federal agencies to improve national civil rights policies and preserve constitutional protections. Vagins and the staff conducted investigations and briefings to develop national policies regarding discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, disability, and religion. She also researched and drafted comprehensive analyses on voting rights, Title VI enforcement, environmental justice, racial disparities in education, and affirmative action.
Before working at the commission, Vagins was an associate in the employment discrimination and civil rights practice group at Cohen Milstein, where she litigated high-profile nationwide civil rights class actions. She represented more than 1.5 million women from Wal-Mart in the largest Title VII employment discrimination class action in history. Prior to that, Vagins was an associate at Sidley & Austin in the civil, criminal and constitutional litigation practice group and founded the firm's Committee for the Recruitment and Retention of Women. Earlier Vagins worked at EMILY's List and clerked at the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project.
Vagins graduated magna cum laude from the Washington College of Law at American University, where she was an editor of the law review and the recipient of the Gillett-Mussey scholarship for her contributions in the field of gender equity. She received her B.A. with distinction from Swarthmore College.