What You Need to Know About Obama's Labor Secretary Pick, Thomas Perez

National Journal

President Obama will nominate Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general for civil rights, as the next Labor secretary, according to a White House official. Here is what you need to know about Perez.

He was behind many of the big Justice Department cases of the last four years. Perez has worked closely with Attorney General Eric Holder on several civil rights cases in the president’s first term. Holder hopes to make accomplishments on civil rights part of his legacy at Justice. Perez’s civil rights division oversaw the Justice Department objection to two similar laws that required voters to show a photo ID in Texas and South Carolina, saying the states did not adequately prove the laws comply with the Voting Rights Act. Both states filed lawsuits against the Justice Department in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to restore their laws. The court agreed with the department's objection of the Texas law, while South Carolina’s law was upheld. That law, however, cannot go into effect until this year, the court ruled.

Perez’s division has also sued famed sheriff Joe Arpaio from Arizona’s Maricopa County for what the Justice Department has said was racial profiling of Latinos in his border county. That case was one of 17 probes of police and sheriff’s departments across the country, the most cases in the division’s history.

Labor loves him. Perez, a Harvard Law graduate, has a long history of working on labor issues. From 2007 to 2009, he served as the Maryland labor secretary under Gov. Martin O’Malley, before he was tapped for his current position at Justice. During his tenure, he helped write a reform package that was aimed at addressing the state’s foreclosure crisis. Perez has specialized in civil rights law throughout his career, serving a Justice Department attorney and a special counsel to the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. He also held two civil rights positions in the Clinton administration. During his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed an increase of the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour. If Perez gets the job at Labor, he will likely play a prominent role in pushing this proposal on Capitol Hill.

He has Republican critics. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a statement that Perez “should fact a lot of tough questions” over his work at the Justice Department. Republicans have criticized Perez's role in a deal between the city of St. Paul, Minn. and the Justice Department, which lawmakers called a "quid pro quo agreement." Republicans hold that in exchange for the city to drop a lawsuit that threatened to negate some provisions in the Fair Housing Act, the department agreed not to sue the city on two unrelated housing matters. If the Justice Department had gone through with its lawsuit, it could have won an upwards of $180 million, Republicans say.

In his last confirmation battle in 2009, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., held up Perez's nomination for several months over his ties to immigration advocacy groups. Perez was eventually confirmed with strong Republican support. The Senate voted 72 to 22 to confirm him.

He could play an important role in immigration policy.  The Labor Department could be involved in some aspects of the immigration debate, including helping to shape proposals on how employers could hire guest workers from other countries. If confirmed, Perez could be the only Latino in Obama's second-term Cabinet. Two Latino Cabinet secretaries, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, are leaving the administration.

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