During labor-secretary nominee Tom Perez’s committee hearing today, he sparred with Republican senators over decisions made during his tenure heading the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.
In response to questions from Senator Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Perez defended his intervening in a case on disparate impact that was slated to be heard by the Supreme Court. “The Department of Justice is really a guardian of the Fair Housing Act,” Perez retorted. According to a report issued earlier this week by several committees on the Hill, Perez helped engineer a quid pro quo case in which the city of St. Paul dropped the case on disparate impact in exchange for DOJ not becoming involved in a whistleblower case against St. Paul.
When Alexander pointed out that DOJ also had an obligation to the taxpayer, Perez said that the whistleblower case DOJ decided not to intervene in (which could have given taxpayers as much as $200 million back) wasn’t likely to have been won: “The value to the United States of a losing case is zero.” Alexander responded that in such cases where DOJ did become involved, 90 percent of the cases resulted in a win for the whistleblower’s side.
“The case doesn’t collect the money,” Alexander remarked. “St. Paul agrees to withdraw the lawsuit that might produce the result you don’t like. That seems to me to be an extraordinary amount of wheeling and dealing outside the normal responsibilities of the assistant attorney general for civil rights.”
Alexander also criticized Perez for “manipulating the legal process to try to get the result you want from the Supreme Court in a way that’s inappropriate for the assistant attorney general of the United States.”
Perez’s decision to bring a case against South Carolina’s voter-ID law earned him some backlash from Senator Tim Scott (R., S.C.), who accused Perez of having a management style that “seems to have a political perspective, a political bias,” and “that seems not to be open, not to be balanced, and certainly not to be fair.” Perez argued that in the case, which was settled in South Carolina’s favor, the judge had acknowledged that the state had altered aspects of the legislation after having run it by the Department of Justice.
Today, Senator Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) also released a statement calling on Perez to release personal e-mails relating to the quid pro quo case. “I’m disappointed Mr. Perez has chosen not to comply with a congressional subpoena and turn over the approximately 1,200 personal e-mails he has identified that relate to his official duties. Such extensive use of his personal e-mail to conduct official business is an extremely troubling development.”