Obama Nominates Leading Prosecutor Against Voter ID Laws as Labor Secretary

Fred Lucas | March 18, 2013 | 5:03pm EDT
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Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – New Labor Secretary nominee Thomas Perez was cited by both a federal judge and the Justice Department inspector general for giving incomplete testimony on the controversial handling of the New Black Panther voter intimidation case, but he took the lead in prosecuting federal lawsuits against state voter ID laws as head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division.

Further, Perez served as a top aide to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and was once disqualified from running for Maryland state attorney general.

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President Barack Obama announced Perez for the cabinet post Monday morning in the East Room of the White House in front of an audience that included Attorney General Eric Holder, MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Perez has been the assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice Department since 2009 and before that served as the secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations from 2007 to 2009.

“As a civil rights attorney, a staffer for Sen. Ted Kennedy, a member of the Montgomery, Md., County Council, Tom fought for a level playing field where hard work and responsibility are rewarded and working families can get ahead,” Obama said in his announcement.

“This is not the first time he has chosen to be a labor secretary either. We’ve got here today, Gov. Martin O’Malley, and Martin appointed Tom as secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor where he helped implement the country’s first statewide living wage law, because he understood that a minimum wage should be a wage that you can live on,” Obama continued.

“In his current role as head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Tom fought for opportunities to open pathways in the workforce for everyone willing to contribute – people with disabilities, LGBT Americans, and immigrants – and he has helped settle the largest case ever for families targeted by unfair mortgage lenders,” he said.

Perez, who also served in the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Clinton administration, where he chaired the interagency Worker Exploitation Task Force, expressed gratitude for the Labor nomination.

“Over my career, I’ve learned that true progress is possible if you keep an open mind, listen to all sides and focus on results,” Perez said Monday. “I look forward to taking these lessons with me if confirmed to my new role as secretary of the Department of Labor.”

On March 12, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General released a report that accused Perez of incomplete testimony when he told the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that political appointees did not play a role in deciding not to prosecute the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation at a Pennsylvania polling place in November 2008.

“We note that AAG Perez had not been confirmed at the time of the decisions at issue and we found that he did not know about these incidents at the time of his testimony to the Commission on May 14, 2010,” the IG report said of Perez, confirmed to his current Justice Department job on Oct. 8, 2009.

“Therefore, we did not find that Perez intentionally misled the Commission,” the IG report continued.

“Nevertheless, given he was testifying as a Department witness before the Commission, we believe that Perez should have sought more details from King and Rosenbaum about the nature and extent of the participation of political employees in the NBPP decision in advance of his testimony before the Commission,” the report said.

“The issue of whether political appointees were involved in this matter had already engendered substantial controversy, and Perez told us he expected questions about it would arise during his testimony,” the report added.

Asked about this report Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “The operative sentence is the first part, which finds Mr. Perez did not mislead, and that was the finding of the report.”

Carney went on to cite a March 17, 2011 DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility report that said, “attorneys did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment, but rather acted appropriately in the exercise of their supervisory duties.”

In an opinion on July 23, 2012 U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia said Perez testimony was contradictory when he awarded fees and cost from a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to government watchdog group Judicial Watch.

“The documents reveal that political appointees within DOJ were conferring about the status and resolution of the New Black Panther Party case in the days preceding the DOJ’s dismissal of claims in that case, which would appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision,” Judge Walton wrote.

“Surely the public has an interest in documents that cast doubt on the accuracy of government officials’ representations regarding the possible politicization of agency decision making.”

After serving in the Clinton Justice Department in the early 1990s, Perez became the special counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D- Mass.) in the late 1990s, and was “Senator Kennedy’s principle advisor on civil rights, criminal justice and constitutional issues,” according to his Justice Department bio.

From there, he served in the Clinton administration’s Department of Health and Human Services as the director of the Office of Civil Rights.

In 2002, he was first elected to the Montgomery County, Md., Board of Supervisors and became the board president in 2005. In 2006, he attempted to run for Maryland attorney general, but was disqualified as a candidate. Perez did not meet the state constitutional requirement to have practiced law in the state of Maryland for 10 years to be eligible to run for attorney general.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, was elected that year and named Perez to his cabinet as secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulations. Perez, as the state labor secretary, advocated strongly for a Maryland “living wage” of $10.50 per hour.

In November 2008, Perez helped draft Maryland’s response to the foreclosure crisis, in which the state halted all foreclosures and accrual of fees for 60 days. The state worked with HSBC, GMAC ResCap, Litton Loan Services, Ocwean, Citigroup and AmeriNational Community Services.

“These agreements are a critical component of our comprehensive efforts to provide homeowners with the resources they need to remain in their homes,” Perez said, according to The Capital newspaper in Annapolis, Md.

After being named to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Perez led the charge to block several voter identification laws through lawsuits.

Perez claimed the South Carolina voter ID law violated Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act because 8.4 percent of the states registered white voters lack photo ID, but 10 percent of nonwhite voters lack photo ID, according to reports in both the Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor.

In 2012, he led a lawsuit to overturn a similar voter ID law in Texas. He further sought to stop Florida from verifying the eligibility of people listed on their voter rolls, alleging Florida was in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act.

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