President Barack Obama will reportedly nominate Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez to be the next Secretary of Labor. Perez, who works in the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, would succeed Hilda Solis as both Secretary of Labor and as the Obama administration’s highest-ranking Latino official. He previously served as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor.
During his time at the Department of Justice, Perez gained notoriety for overseeing the Justice Department’s objection to voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. The South Carolina law was delayed, while the Texas law was struck down by a federal court, which found that “it imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities.”
Perez is also well known for filing a lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, accusing “Sheriff Joe” of engaging in racial profiling.
“At its core, this is an abuse-of-power case involving a sheriff and sheriff’s office that disregarded the Constitution, ignored sound police practices, compromised public safety and did not hesitate to retaliate against his perceived critics,” Perez said at the time.
Obama’s pick is certain to generate controversy on Capitol Hill. Perez is a long-time target for voter-suppression groups such as True the Vote, and he also drew right-wing criticism during his conflict with Arpaio.
Additionally, Perez’s confirmation to his current post was held up for over six months by Senate Republicans, led by Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who complained that “decision making at the department and the Civil Rights Division in particular [has] been based on politics, and not on protecting civil rights.” Perez was eventually confirmed by a 72-22 vote, but his tenure at the Department of Justice may embolden his Republican critics to block his nomination again.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is already hinting at his opposition to Perez, saying the nominee “should face a lot of tough questions” over what Grassley calls a “quid pro quo agreement” between the city of St. Paul, MN, and the Justice Department. Perez persuaded St. Paul to withdraw a lending discrimination suit that he feared could jeopardize the 1968 Fair Housing Act, while declining to join two whistleblower lawsuits in the city that Perez’s critics say could have made the federal government more than $180 million.
If Senate Republicans do mount a serious challenge to Perez, it would come with significant political risk. As the GOP attempts to rebrand itself in the wake of its disastrous showing in the 2012 election, filibustering a highly-qualified Latino nominee because he’s too dedicated to civil rights would hardly project the right image.
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