Even before President Barack Obama nominated Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez to be labor secretary, the talk in Washington was that Republicans would not make his confirmation easy. Among other things, some conservatives have pointed to a recent Justice Department inspector general report as evidence of Perez’s unsuitability. The 300-page document is, indeed, damning. But not for Perez.
Since October 2009, Perez has run the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and the inspector general focused on the division’s voting rights section. Under the Voting Rights Act, for example, many states and localities must ask its staff to sign off on any changes to their voting rules before they can implement them. Under the same statute, the section can bring cases against people and organizations that intimidate voters or prevent citizens from casting ballots.
During the George W. Bush administration, one of the section’s leaders pushed to hire conservatives, and in an unprecedented move, the section brought cases against African Americans for allegedly infringing on the voting rights of whites. That provoked backlash from career staffers who saw the purpose of laws such as the Voting Rights Act as protecting traditionally disadvantaged minorities. Conservatives fought back.
This was all before Perez took over.
If Republicans want to ask Perez about a deal the Wall Street Journal editorial page says he arranged to head off Supreme Court review of some of his division’s work, fair enough. Fair, too, would be questions about the inspector general’s findings that intra-office suspicion lingers in the voting section.
But Republicans should also consider the entire report, which makes clear that, following the explosion of strife during the Bush years, the section’s leaders tried to stress the importance of professionalism in the office. Perez continued and expanded those efforts.
The Washington Post (March 24)