According to reports from multiple news outlets, President Obama has found his next Secretary of Labor: Tom Perez, former Maryland labor secretary, current assistant attorney general, and first-generation Dominican-American. Here’s what you need to know about the man who could soon be running the United States Labor Department.
He currently heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Perez is currently Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, meaning he is the federal government’s chief official in charge of investigating possible discrimination. Under Perez’s leadership, the division has changed drastically since the Bush years. While the Bush-era Civil Rights Division investigated relatively few discrimination cases—leading critics such as civil rights lawyer Joseph Rich to accuse Bush of politicizing the department—Perez has aggressively pursued high-profile investigations into the Trayvon Martin shooting, state-level voter ID laws, disability discrimination and Mississippi’s “school-to-prison pipeline.”
He has fought state voter ID laws.
During the 2012 election season, Perez’s Civil Rights Division battled state voter ID laws in the courts, arguing that the legislation makes it disproportionately difficult for minorities to vote. In a July, letter to Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Commonwealth, Perez announced that his division would investigate whether Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. He has also used Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block a similar law in Texas.
He investigated the Trayvon Martin killing.
He has emphasized combating discrimination against the LGBT community.
Perez has emphasized the Civil Rights Division’s prosecution of LGBT bullying cases. Speaking to the LGBT publication The Washington Blade, he said, “The bullying of kids who are LGBT is probably the largest growth area in our docket. This is about safety—whether it’s kids who are gay, whether it’s kids who are Muslim, whether it’s kids who speak English with an accent, whether it’s kids with disabilities, and we have in Tennessee a case involving bullying of kids with disabilities—this is an emerging growth area, I regret to say.”
He has also stepped up efforts to combat discrimination against the disabled.
Perez’s Civil Rights Division has filed a number of major lawsuits alleging that various states failed to comply with the Supreme Court’s 1999 Olmstead decision. According to a Justice Department webpage dedicated to Perez’s enforcement of Olmstead compliance, the ruling “requires states to eliminate unnecessary segregation of persons with disabilities and to ensure that persons with disabilities receive services in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs.”
Republicans have opposed his nomination before.
When Perez was originally nominated to head the Civil Rights Division, Senate Republicans blocked his confirmation for more than seven months. The given reasons: the Justice Department’s decision not to pursue a voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party, and Perez’s work as president of the immigrant justice group CASA de Maryland, which Senator Jeff Sessions said was guilty of “promoting illegal immigration.”
The heads of the biggest labor federation seem to like him.
AFL-CIO spokesperson Jeff Hauser told The Los Angeles Times, “The AFL-CIO believes Perez would bring the skills and passion working people need to an important agency.”