Word is out that Obama might be nominating Justice Department civil rights head attorney Thomas Perez to replace outgoing Labor Department Secretary Hilda Solis. Who is Perez? Remember those voter ID battles last year that the Justice Department went hard in the paint for, in Texas, South Carolina, and Florida? That was Perez. Remember how Justice went from defending the Defense of Marriage Act to defending, or at least no longer fighting against marriage equality? That was Perez. Remember how Justice started bringing the pain to banks that engaged in discriminatory housing and payday lending? Yup, that was all Perez.
Perez in fact restored the Justice Department’s civil rights legacy of protecting people of color after the Bush administration effectively defanged them for almost a decade. Perez served as Montgomery County, Md.’s first elected Latino council representative from 2002 to 2006 and later served as labor secretary under Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. He’s advocated strongly for immigrant workers, and for all these reasons, his pick for U.S. Labor will be loved by progressives and hated by conservatives, as Adam Serwer noted this morning at Mother Jones.
Immigration reform advocates have high hopes for Perez, the child of exiles from the Dominican Republic. Gustavo Torres, head of the immigrant advocacy organization CASA de Maryland, told Mother Jones last year that while serving on the group’s board, Perez played a key role in turning the organization into an influential force. “We were a very small organization; we were dreaming of how we could make a difference,” Torres said. Perez “helped us develop a strategic plan to expand the organization around the state.” Perez, Torres says, “truly believes in integrating the immigrant community, and believes in comprehensive immigration reform.”
If he’s officially selected, he will have no easy passageway through the Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darryl Issa of California are expected to hammer him fiercely on a fair housing discrimination lawsuit Perez allegedly helped make go away in St. Paul, Minnesota. Sen. Grassley also believes that Perez’s civil rights division has been overreaching in it’s federal law challenges.
Meanwhile, an official nod from Obama would signal that his administration is not shying away from supporting organized labor and immigrant workers rights.