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Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez was zealous civil rights advocate at Justice Department

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

The newswires are reporting that President Obama will make the announcement this morning that he wants the assistant attorney general for civil rights to be the new head of the Labor Department:

Perez, a Harvard-educated civil rights attorney whose nomination was championed by Hispanic groups, would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January.

Obama has been criticized for a lack of diversity in his Cabinet choices so far, particularly by Latinos, who are an influential voting bloc and have pushed for more representation in government.

If confirmed by the Senate, Perez, the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republican, will take on a prominent role in the Cabinet as Obama seeks to raise the minimum wage and advance immigration reform, two key pledges he made at the beginning of his second term.

A newly-released internal government report will cause Perez some trouble though:

The report, released last week, said Perez gave incomplete testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he said the department’s political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit the Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party.

The report also concluded that Perez did not intentionally mislead the commission and that the department acted properly.

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa said Perez appeared to be “woefully unprepared to answer questions” from the Civil Rights Commission.

In my column last week, I detailed Perez’s history as a zealous liberal activist and how he pushed the Justice Department to increase hate crime prosecutions:

In 2009, he rejoined the Justice Department, and he is widely credited with pushing its civil rights division into overdrive. According to Holder, the division has increased prosecutions of hate crimes 35 percent in the last three years.

Perez is a man with a mission who sees only modest change in the country from the ’60s. “Crosses are still burned in yards across the nation’s heartland,” Perez said at a 2010 Martin Luther King Day event in Greensboro, N.C.

He is particularly aggressive on issues related to immigration and voter fraud. He led the division’s efforts to sue Texas and South Carolina over voter ID laws, succeeding in getting the Texas law overturned. Florida was also sued for its efforts to strip noncitizens from the voter rolls.

Perez has started 17 probes of police and sheriff’s departments across the country, the most in the history of the division. He sued the New York Fire Department for having examinations that too many black and Latino applicants failed.

Perez’s division also threatened South Carolina over its policy of segregating HIV-positive prisoners from the rest of the inmates. You might think it a good policy given that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rate HIV infection is five times higher in prisons. According to state officials South Carolina, the practice effectively stopped transmission and also ensured better care for already-infected inmates. Perez was unmoved, and he warned South Carolina it was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act. Thus, a law intended to help the blind and those in wheelchairs access public spaces, is now being used to try to place HIV-infected prisoners into the general prison population.

No issue was too small for Perez either. In 2009, DOJ informed several universities including Princeton, Arizona State and Case Western Reserve that they were under investigation for ADA violations. What had they done? They offered Kindles to students. The problem? At that time, Kindles were not equipped for blind people to use. So as far as DOJ was concerned, nobody could use them.

“We acted swiftly to respond to complaints we received about the use of the Amazon Kindle,” Perez proudly told a House committee in 2010. “We must remain vigilant to ensure that as new technologies are introduced, people with disabilities are not left behind.”

Under Perez, DOJ took a zero tolerance policy on Amish-on-Amish hate crimes after an Ohio leader and 15 of his followers reportedly cut off the beards and hair of some of their coreligionists. Given that the vicious assaults could have been prosecuted at the state level, one might think the Justice Department would be loath to spend taxpayers’ money intervening in a private religious feud among a group of nonviolent people who famously like to be left alone. Not Perez. His division won hate crimes convictions against all 16 offenders, with the ringleader receiving a 15-year federal prison sentence.

 

 

 

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