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The Controversial Past of Obama's New Labor Secretary


"Discrimination persists – both blatant discrimination and the dangerously subtle kind -- in so many of our institutions."

New Labor Secretary Thomas Perez – after a controversial tenure at the Department of Justice marked by his involvement in targeting voter identification laws, dropping charges against the New Black Panther Party, and fighting Arizona’s immigration enforcement – was ceremonially sworn by Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday.

Perhaps most relevant to Perez’s current office was his action on “disparate impact” cases in employment and bank loans while serving as assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “Disparate

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 04: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) conducts a ceremonial swearing-in for Labor Secretary Thomas Perez with his wife Ann Marie Staudenmaier and son Rafael Perez at the Department of Labor September 4, 2013 in Washington, DC. Perez was officially sworn in July 23, 2013. Perez served as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice before being tapped by President Barack Obama to head the Labor Department during his second term. 


Credit: Getty Images


impact” is a statistical tool to show that lenders or employers are discriminating against minorities, which doesn’t require showing intent to discriminate nor examine the individual decisions, rather relies only on the numbers.

Speaking at the Department of Labor after the swearing in, Perez said his goals include “confronting the challenge of income inequality, secure a better bargain for the middle class and build ladders of opportunities,” and further called for “leveling the playing field." He further said he would advocate for immigration reform.

“We must fix our broken immigration system,” he said. “It’s an economic imperative, a law enforcement imperative, a humanitarian imperative. Not only will we bring 11 million people out of the shadows, we will create economic growth, promote entrepreneurship, strengthen Social Security, help reduce the deficit and grow the economy.”

Based on a speech he delivered in January 2010 at an AFL-CIO event in Greensboro, N.C. honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Perez could be an activist secretary.

“He [King] would ask the question: If women outnumber men in the workplace, then why are women still fighting for pay equity in the workplace?” Perez said.

In the same speech, he added, “In 2010, a Latina sits on the Supreme Court bench. And yet newcomers to our country, trying like so many generations past to carve out a life in the land of the free, face bigotry and hate because of the language they speak, the clothes they wear, the color of their skin or the accent in their voice.”

He went on, "Discrimination persists – both blatant discrimination and the dangerously subtle kind – in so many of our institutions, showing up in our schools, in our workplaces, in our health care system, in our financial system."

On the housing front, Perez was reportedly the key figure in Justice Department’s actions to stop a Supreme Court case from going forward that challenged “disparate impact.”

The case of Magner v. Gallgher was a legal battle between the city of St. Paul, Minn. and certain landlords in the city that accused the city of racism for enforcing the housing code. The Supreme Court decided to hear the case in which the city was challenging the legality of using “disparate impact” analysis under the Fair Housing Act. “Disparate impact” was important enough to maintain that, according to Orange County Register, Perez promised to drop two False Claims Act cases against the city if the city would drop its case against disparate impact. The deal saved the city millions.

Also relevant to his post as labor secretary is his record on illegal immigration.

Before joining the Obama Justice Department, Perez was named the Maryland state secretary of labor under Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley in 2007. As a member of the Montgomery County Council in 20004, Perez testified before the Maryland state legislature in opposition to legislation blocking illegal immigrants from getting drivers licenses and opposing proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

Perez was confirmed by the Senate to lead the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division in October 2009. Shortly after, the division began an investigation into Maricopa County, Ariz. Sheriff Joe Arpaio, known nationally for his strict immigration enforcement policies. The next year he sued the state of Arizona for SB 1070, the law that allowed local police to ask for identification if they suspected someone was not in the country legally. The key provision of that law as upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, though other provisions were not.

In 2010, two DOJ officials – J. Christian Adams and Christopher Coates – said Perez played a key role in dismissing the voter intimidation case against the New Black Panther Party whose members were caught on video intimidating voters in Philadelphia.

Perez took the lead in blocking voter ID laws in both South Carolina and Texas and also took action to stop Florida from its efforts to purge dead and ineligible voters from the voter rolls.



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