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Republicans Accuse Labor Nominee of Fighting for Civil Rights

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Dave JohnsonWhere does the Republican Party put its energy? On anything that furthers the interests of the wealthiest. Tax cuts and kicking government are right at the top of that list.* Also near the top comes blocking minimum wage increases, blocking workplace safety rules and keeping lots of people unemployed so they are desperate to take any nasty, dirty, low-paying job, etc. But next to tax cuts and keeping government from operating, Republicans fight to keep unions from being able to organize because the power of working people acting together collectively begins to challenge the power of concentrated wealth that corporations represent. To this end, Republicans hate and fight the U.S. Department of Labor and, now, the new nominee for secretary of labor.

In the News

Republican ‚Äúoppo‚ÄĚ researchers issued a 63-page report on Thomas Perez, who President Obama has nominated to fill the vacancy for secretary of labor. Perez currently serves as head of the Justice Department‚Äôs Civil Rights Division. The report accuses Perez of being corrupt because he fought to keep civil rights law intact by trading a case involving St. Paul landlords who were renting substandard homes in low-income areas for a case accusing St. Paul of not doing enough to help minorities win contracts.

The story is circulating today in the Washington Post, GOP Issues Critical Report of Labor Secretary Nominee Perez:

The GOP lawmakers accuse Perez of misusing his power last year to persuade the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a housing discrimination case before it could be heard by the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Justice Department agreed not to intervene in two whistleblower cases against St. Paul that could have won up to $200?million for taxpayers.

‚ĶTop Democrats on the House Oversight Committee issued a report on the investigation Sunday, writing that Perez ‘acted professionally to advance the interests of civil rights and effectively combat the scourge of housing discrimination.’ The Justice Department also defended Perez, saying litigation decisions made by the department ‘were in the best interests of the United States and were consistent with the department‚Äôs legal, ethical and professional responsibility obligations.’

The GOP report cites documents that suggest Perez‚Äôs decision frustrated and confused career lawyers at Justice who initially wanted to join the whistleblower cases against St. Paul. These lawyers described the department‚Äôs change of heart as ‘weirdness,’ ‘ridiculous’ and a case of ‘cover your head pingpong.’


Complicated…Perez’s deal kept the Justice Department out of one court case in exchange for keeping another from making it to the Supreme Court, which would use it to overturn important civil rights laws 5-4.

What Republicans Say Perez Did That Was Bad

The main charge against Perez (other than being brown) is that, as part of his duties in the Civil Rights Division, he brokered a deal in a housing discrimination case in St. Paul, to keep the case from reaching the Supreme Court. The St. Paul case would have enabled the Supreme Court to strike down ‚Äúdisparate-impact theory‚ÄĚ in civil rights a labor law, with a 5-4 vote.

The current Roberts movement-conservative majority on the Supreme Court looks for cases that enable them to maneuver 5-4 votes to strike down laws that protect citizens from billionaires and corporations (who fund the conservative movement) in various ways. Citizens United is the best example of this. It undid campaign finance laws, enabling billionaires and giant corporations to put multiple millions into getting their candidates elected at every level. The case involving Perez is one that this court could have used to further harm citizen interests with a 5-4 vote.

The Case

In the early 2000s, a group of landlords were renting substandard (heat didn’t work, no locks, rotten floors, rat holes, bugs, broken pipes, etc.) housing to minorities in St. Paul. St. Paul cracked down with code enforcement. The landlords sued St. Paul, claiming code enforcement would violate the Fair Housing Act because minority tenants would have less access to…nasty, substandard housing with rotted floors, rats, etc.

That’s right, the slumlords sued the city arguing that if the city did code enforcement and it put them out of business, minorities wouldn’t have access to nasty, substandard housing that was infested with code violations. They claimed that code enforcement violated civil right laws by potentially decreasing minority access to nasty, substandard housing.

This is exactly the kind of case Republicans love because it turns the tables against minorities and makes the claim that the kind of businesses that scam on and prey on and take advantage of vulnerable and powerless citizens are really ‚Äúperforming a service.‚ÄĚ

St. Paul’s lawyers had a duty to the city to do what they could to win for the city. They knew the Supreme Court had an interest in overturning the civil rights law that the slumlords were using to sue them, meaning they would win the case for the city. So St. Paul was taking the case to the Supreme Court even though the court would use it to strike down civil rights laws nationally.

Perez struck a deal to avoid this outcome. This is what Republicans are accusing him of.

The Other Case

The other side of the deal Perez brokered involved a suit against St. Paul claiming the city had not been using federal funds to sufficiently help minorities get contracts and jobs with the city. The case would have collapsed if the Justice Department didn’t get involved and could potentially cost the city millions if they did. So in exchange for St. Paul not taking the other case to the Supreme Court, Perez got the Justice Department to agree not to get involved.

What This Tells Us

All of this tells us that Perez understands the strategic long game that the billionaires and their giant corporations are playing, by investing in getting their people placed on the courts and Supreme Court, and how they manipulate cases to use to undermine long-standing laws that help regular people. What Perez did shows that he is there to fight for regular people, not to make a fortune by ‚Äúplaying along‚ÄĚ while in a government position and then later receiving a high-paying payoff job with the corporations behind this.

Good Sources

A good source for understanding the complicated story is Adam Serwer in Mother Jones, The GOP Wants to Use This Bizarre Case to Scuttle Obama’s Most Progressive Cabinet Nominee:

The deal Perez helped cut likely prevented a landmark civil rights law from being struck down by the Roberts’ court. Perez‚Äôs civil rights division later used this law to secure record financial settlements against banks that discriminated against minority borrowers during the financial crisis. And Republicans were very angry about it.

Another source for a more conservative take on this is a series of posts by Sean Higgins in the Washington Examiner (note: you will be swarmed by pop-up ads):

A glimpse into how Thomas Perez operates.

More on the deal Thomas Perez cut with St. Paul.

How Thomas Perez might use ‚Äėdisparate impact‚Äô theory as labor secretary.

*More from the list of where the Republican Party puts its energy: keeping people from voting, keeping objective information from reaching people, keeping entrenched ‚Äúincumbent‚ÄĚ interests like oil and coal and big pharmaceutical companies from facing serious competition, etc., etc.

This article was originally posted on the AFL-CIO on April 17, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Dave Johnson¬†is a Fellow with¬†Campaign for America’s Future¬†and a Senior Fellow with¬†Renew California.

Dave is founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest, and a blogger at Speak Out California. He is a frequent public speaker, talk-radio personality and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community.


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Obama to nominate three, including two Republicans, to labor board. Will Republicans filibuster?

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Laura ClawsonPresident Obama announced three nominations to the National Labor Relations Board Tuesday:

His new nominees include two Republicans, lawyers Harry I. Johnson, III and Philip A. Miscimarra, and he also renominated Democrat Mark Gaston Pearce, who is currently serving on the board.‚ÄúWith these nominations there will be five nominees to the NLRB, both Republicans and Democrats, awaiting Senate confirmation,” Obama said in a statement. “I urge the Senate to confirm them swiftly so that this bipartisan board can continue its important work on behalf of the American people.‚ÄĚ

Because Senate Republicans have filibustered previous nominees, the labor board is currently operating with three recess appointees in order to have the quorum it needs to function. A federal appeals court has overturned those recess appointments, however, threatening the labor agency’s decisions of the past year and¬†imperiling enforcement of labor law¬†while the case is¬†appealed to the Supreme Court.

The nomination of two Republicans to the bipartisan board along with the renomination of a Democrat means that if Senate Republicans once again block the appointments, it becomes that much clearer that the main goal is blocking enforcement of labor law by preventing the NLRB from being able to function at all.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 9, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

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Civil rights champion Thomas Perez being nominated for labor secretary

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Laura ClawsonPresident Obama’s nomination of assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas Perez for labor secretary becomes official today after more than a week of increasingly solid rumors. Perez has headed the civil rights division of the Justice Department since 2009; previously, he has been secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, a member of the Montgomery County Council, director of the civil rights office at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under Bill Clinton, and a special counsel to Sen. Ted Kennedy.

If confirmed, Perez will be the only Latino member of Obama’s second-term cabinet. He will also be a notable progressive voice in a cabinet containing or expected to contain several members less than friendly to workers and worker organizing, such as Hyatt Hotels heiress Penny Pritzker, the likely commerce secretary nominee.

Perez has a noteworthy record on both civil rights and labor issues;¬†during his time there, the Justice Department “opened a record number of civil rights investigations into local police departments accused of brutality and/or discrimination,” challenged restrictive voter ID laws, gotten major fair-housing settlements, and more. Both in his time in Maryland and at the Justice Department, Perez has sought to¬†strengthen and enforce¬†worker protections:

Pushed for labor protections for domestic workers: Millions of domestic workers in the United States make low wages because they aren‚Äôt protected by labor law, a problem Perez sought to address while serving on Montgomery County‚Äôs City Council, where he pushed for contractual labor law protections and a minimum wage for such workers. After three years of debate, and after Perez had left the council, those protections became law in 2008 and gave domestic workers contractual labor rights they still lack in most of the United States.Protected immigrant workers from losing pay: Perez would take over the Dept. of Labor in the middle of Obama‚Äôs push for immigration reform, and he has experience dealing with immigration and labor issues. While serving in the Justice Dept., Perez investigated claims that employers were using Alabama‚Äôs new immigration law to avoid paying immigrant workers. ‚ÄúWe continue to be concerned that certain employers may be using HB56 as an excuse not to pay workers,‚ÄĚ he said, adding that he would ‚Äúthrow the book‚ÄĚ at employers who weren‚Äôt paying workers. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre here. We will prosecute you. That is impermissible, period.‚ÄĚ

Republicans are already teeing up their series of objections to Perez, from whether he accurately represented the role of political appointees in¬†decisions about the New Black Panther Party¬†case (not whether he politicized decisions, mind you, but whether he unknowingly was inaccurate about things that happened before he arrived in the Justice Department) or a Minnesota¬†fair housing case¬†that has Sen. Chuck Grassley upset. So we can likely expect a lengthy confirmation process, if not another outright filibuster. But if and when he’s confirmed, Perez looks likely to be a real champion of working people.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on March 18, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

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