Tom Perez Vilified by Republicans For Protecting Civil Rights Laws


Thomas Perez, President Obama's labor secretary Nominee, is being vilified by Republican lawmakers for his allegedly corrupt actions of protecting civil rights laws in a disputed deal he was involved in as the head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice.

Thomas Perez was born in Buffalo as the son of Dominican immigrants. A graduate of Harvard Law School, and the first lawyer in his family, he has had an impressive career as a civil rights lawyer since 1987. He has worked in the Criminal Section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights, and Maryland's Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, all in high-ranking positions. At present, he is the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, the position he supposedly acted unethically in. Over the years, he has gained a strong reputation as a powerful advocate of civil rights and workers' rights, leading him to a March 2013 nomination for secretary of labor in which the president spoke extremely favorably about Perez and his past work.

As he approached his confirmation hearing, the criticism was abundant. In March, the DOJ inspector general (IG) had released a 300-page report which detailed many of the Civil Rights Division’s operations under Perez’s leadership, including an investigation of alleged politicization of the work environment at the Justice Department, as well as bias in his work. Then, this Sunday, a 63-page report was issued by Republican lawmakers, accusing Perez of abusing his powers as head of the Civil Rights Division when he controversially worked out an arrangement with St. Paul, Minnesota in which the city withdrew their appeal to the Supreme Court regarding a housing discrimination case that would have allowed the Supreme Court the opportunity to strike down the theory of "disparate-impact" violations in civil rights law. The case had been led against St. Paul by landlords who contended that the housing condition code had overwhelmingly affected and caused the shutting-down of housing on which minorities disproportionately depended on, revealing the housing code’s "disparate impact," or unintentional discrimination.

In exchange for dropping of the city’s Supreme Court appeal against this case, the Justice Department established that they would not get involved in two whistleblower cases that had been made against St. Paul. One alleged that the city had "received tens of millions of dollars of community development funds, including stimulus funding, by improperly certifying its compliance with federal law." The alleged scheme, if successful, could have apparently collected up to $200 million for taxpayers, a small price to pay for the preservation of the protection offered by the right to claim disparate impact violations.

The deal was successful. The Department of Justice did not pursue the whistleblower cases, and St. Paul retracted its case versus the landlords.

The GOP lawmakers have criticized these actions, with the report stating that the actions of Perez have somehow "potentially violated [his] duty of loyalty to his client, the United States," despite Perez’s success in avoiding the potential overturning of important civil rights laws.

Still, it is unlikely that he will be filibustered. Republican senators are being cautious in potentially establishing precedent for filibustering nominees and therefore are likely being particularly careful in this situation.