U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta talks to reporters during a news conference in Miami, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2008. Acosta announced eight people and eight...
Alan Diaz

Trump's latest cabinet nominee has a controversial record of his own

On Tuesday, the "fine-tuned machine" that is Donald Trump's White House had yet another breakdown. Andy Puzder, the president's choice to lead the Labor Department, was forced to withdraw in the face of multiple scandals and bipartisan opposition.

The Trump administration did not, however, wait long to name his successor. The president announced yesterday that Alex Acosta, the dean of Florida International University's law school in Miami, is Trump's choice to be the next secretary of labor. His nomination -- Trump's first and only Latino for his cabinet -- has generally been greeted by a collective shrug by much of the political world, which makes his confirmation more likely.

But there are some aspects of Acosta's background that should make for interesting questions during his confirmation hearings.

I published an item for my old, old blog 10 years ago about Acosta's role in a voter-suppression scheme in Ohio. McClatchy reported at the time:

Four days before the 2004 election, the Justice Department's civil rights chief sent an unusual letter to a federal judge in Ohio who was weighing whether to let Republicans challenge the credentials of 23,000 mostly African-American voters.

The case was triggered by allegations that Republicans had sent a mass mailing to mostly Democratic-leaning minorities and used undeliverable letters to compile a list of voters potentially vulnerable to eligibility challenges.

In his letter to U.S. District Judge Susan Dlott of Cincinnati, Assistant Attorney General Alex Acosta argued that it would "undermine" the enforcement of state and federal election laws if citizens could not challenge voters' credentials.

At issue was a "vote-caging" scheme, launched by Ohio Republicans trying to boost the Bush/Cheney re-election campaign. The Justice Department wasn't part of the case, and the judge didn't request federal officials' perspective, but Acosta decided on his own to weigh in anyway with his unsolicited pitch, urging the court to side with Ohio Republicans.

The former deputy chief of the Justice Department's Voting Rights Section who served under Acosta, described Acosta's move at the time as "outrageous," said the attorney's letter amounted to "cheerleading for the Republican defendants."

The Bush/Cheney administration, which had a habit of evaluating Justice Department officials based on their partisan loyalties, later gave Acosta a promotion.

What's more, The Atlantic's Adam Serwer reported yesterday on another key aspect of Acosta's DOJ background.

R. Alexander Acosta ... was the head of the civil-rights division of the Department of Justice in the Bush administration during a period in which his subordinates became embroiled in a scandal over politicized hiring. That scandal raises questions about Acosta's ability to effectively manage a much larger federal agency in an administration that has already shown a tendency to skirt ethics rules.

"That period, all hell broke in the civil rights division," said William Yeomans, a professor of law at American University and a former deputy section chief in the division under Acosta. "That was all under Acosta, he presided over the politicization of the civil-rights division."

Bush's Justice Department toyed with illegal employment practices, but Acosta ultimately told investigators he was unaware of what was happening at the time. A report from the DOJ's Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility didn't hold Acosta personally responsible for the alleged crimes, but the report said Acosta "took no action" against those guilty of wrongdoing, despite warnings.

In other words, keep an eye on Acosta's hearings.