If you thought Chuck Hagel’s confirmation battle was rough, just wait for the blood on the floor if Thomas Perez is appointed to be secretary of labor.
Perez currently heads the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which oversees voting rights, and sources say he is “poised” to become President Obama’s pick to run the cabinet department that regulates labor practices. What’s most disturbing is that, as the White House was leaking his name as its prime pick for Labor, it must have known about the contents of a harsh new report by Justice’s inspector general slamming Perez’s unit for “deep ideological polarization” and a “disappointing lack of professionalism.”
Michael Horowitz, the inspector general who issued the report, was appointed by President Obama but pulls few punches in the 258-page report he released on Tuesday. Its findings highlight just how dysfunctional the Civil Rights Division has been during both the Bush and Obama administrations.
Among other criticisms of Perez, the report revives charges that he gave misleading public testimony in 2010 when he repeatedly stated that Obama-administration appointees weren’t involved in dismissing most of a voter-intimidation lawsuit against the New Black Panther party.
“We found that Perez’s testimony did not reflect the entire story regarding the involvement of political appointees,” the report concluded, while falling short of saying Perez was intentionally misleading. The IG report found that Attorney General Eric Holder “was briefed on and generally indicated his approval” of how the case was handled. Further, two other political appointees “were involved in consultations about the decision.” The report rejects Perez’s contention that those facts didn’t mean any political appointee was “involved” in the decision.
The IG report supplements the findings of U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton, who stated last year that documents uncovered in the New Black Panther case “appear to contradict Assistant Attorney General Perez’s testimony that political leadership was not involved in that decision.”
In a broader critique of the Civil Rights Division, the IG report concludes that, while it’s useful to hire lawyers on the basis of voting-rights legal experience, the division should no longer base hiring decisions on whether applicants have supported civil-rights causes. “Evaluating the degree of applicants’ civil rights ‘commitment’ creates the possible appearance that [the division] is searching for applicants who share political or ideological views common in the liberal civil rights community,” the report says. “This perception is compounded by the fact that the ‘commitment’ that passes muster is often demonstrated through work with a small number of influential civil rights organizations.”
Indeed, out of 113 people picked for “career” (meaning not politically appointed) slots in the Civil Rights Division, the New York Times reported that “none of the new hires listed conservative organizations” on their résumés. Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, says the treatment of the few holdovers from the Bush administration who continued to work at Justice has been deplorable. The senator has suggested that the IG report demonstrates “an inherent culture of harassment against conservatives in the Civil Rights Division.”
Even people strongly sympathetic to the Civil Rights Division’s mission say the IG report is troubling, because it indicates that internal problems uncovered by critics of the Bush administration’s Justice Department have been ignored by the Obama administration.
Andrew Cohen, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and a fellow at the liberal Brennan Center, noted that Attorney General Holder has failed to directly address the findings of the IG’s report. “This is unacceptable. Eric Holder cannot remain silent on this,” Cohen wrote yesterday. “The attorney general is responsible for both the successes and the failures of the Justice Department. And today’s report highlights a serious, continuing failure on the part of the current leadership there to restore the department’s once-heralded reputation for hiring and promoting only the most professional public servants.”