10.06.09

Senate Confirms Perez To Key Justice Department Post

WASHINGTON –  The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to confirm Thomas E. Perez to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.  The nomination has languished on the Senate calendar for more than four months.  The final vote was 72-22.

Perez was nominated by President Obama in March, and he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 29.  The Committee favorably reported the nomination to the full Senate on June 4 by a vote of 17-2.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said, “There are no questions about the qualifications of Tom Perez.  During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Perez made clear his commitment that the Justice Department would enforce the law.  In the arena of civil rights, living up to those assurances is particularly important.  Given that Tom Perez has a distinguished record of public service and a long career advancing civil rights, I have full confidence that he is the right person to restore the Civil Rights Division to its finest traditions of independent law enforcement.

Perez’s confirmation is the first nomination to be confirmed to a senior position at the Justice Department since April.  Four Assistant Attorneys General nominations remain pending on the Senate’s executive calendar: Dawn Johnsen to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, reported by the Committee on March 19; Mary Smith to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division, reported on June 11; Christopher Schroeder to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy, reported on July 28; and Ignacia Moreno to be Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division.  Four additional executive nominations considered by the Judiciary Committee are pending on the Senate’s calendar.

Prior to the Senate’s vote on Perez’s nomination, Leahy said, “Ten months into the President’s first term, 16 nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee remain pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, seven of them from before the last recess. Including the nomination of Mr. Perez, five of these nominations are for appointments to be Assistant Attorneys General at the Department of Justice, leaving five out of a total of 11 Divisions at the Department without a confirmed and appointed leader.  The Senate must do a better job in confirming the leadership team of the Justice Department to ensure that the Nation’s top law enforcement agency is fully equipped to do its job.”

Nominations to fill vacancies on the federal judiciary have also been stalled in the Senate, including two circuit court nominations that were reported by the Judiciary Committee in June.

Information on executive and judicial nominations pending in the Judiciary Committee is available online.

# # # # #

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On The Nomination Of Tom Perez To Be Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division
October 6, 2009

Today, the Senate will finally proceed to consideration of the nomination of Tom Perez to head the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, a critical leadership post.  It is troubling that in order to do so we must first overcome a Republican filibuster of this nomination—a nomination reported out of the Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 17 to two, over four months ago.

There are no questions about the qualifications of Tom Perez, currently Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulations, to head the Civil Rights Division.  Mr. Perez is a former Special Counsel to Senator Kennedy and has been nominated to return to the Division where he previously served with distinction, spending 10 years as a trial attorney in the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division, and rising to Deputy Chief of the Section.
 
There is also no question about the critical need for leadership in the Civil Rights Division, the division charged with enforcing our landmark civil rights laws and protecting all Americans from discrimination  Our delays in considering this nomination have hindered the work of restoring the Division’s independence and tradition of vigorous civil rights enforcement, after the Bush administration compiled one of the worst civil rights records in modern American history and injected partisan politics into the Division’s hiring and law enforcement decisions.   We need leadership to restore the traditional sense of purpose that has guided the Civil Rights Division.  That is a priority of Attorney General Holder, and it is a shame that the President’s nomination of Mr. Perez has been held up for months.

The President designated Mr. Perez on March 13, nearly seven months ago, and formally nominated him two weeks later.  We held his confirmation hearing on April 29, over five months ago.  I thank Senator Cardin for chairing that hearing and for his leadership on this nomination.  After accommodating the Ranking Member and other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee by holding over the nomination until after the Memorial Day Recess, the nomination was reported by the Judiciary Committee on June 4 with Senators Hatch, Grassley, Kyl, Graham, and Cornyn joining in support.

The Ranking Member, Senator Sessions, and Senator Coburn asked to meet with the nominee before consideration by the Senate.  That meeting took place almost immediately after the request.  It reportedly went well.   Unfortunately, despite these efforts and broad bipartisan support for this nomination, it has still taken more than four months to schedule Senate consideration of this well-qualified nominee.

Had the Senate’s Republican minority applied the same standard to consideration of President Obama’s nomination of Tom Perez as Democrats and Republicans used in considering President Bush’s first nomination to serve as head of the Civil Rights Division, Ralph Boyd, he would have been confirmed many months ago.  I remember the Boyd nomination well.  I chaired the Judiciary Committee at the time he was confirmed.  We held Mr. Boyd’s hearing just a little over three weeks after his nomination.  He was reported by the Judiciary Committee unanimously. Every Democratic Senator voted in favor of reporting his nomination.  He was confirmed only a day later by voice vote in the Senate.  No shenanigans.  No partisanship.  No posturing for narrow special interests.

By comparison, it has now been 188 days since Mr. Perez was nominated to the same post, even longer since he was designated.  It should not have taken more than twice as long to consider President Obama’s first nomination to this post as it took for President Bush’s.

The Senate considered President Bush’s second nomination to head the Civil Rights Division, Alex Acosta, even more quickly.  The Democratic Senators then in the minority did not filibuster, obstruct or delay that nomination.  We knew how important it was.  We cooperated to hold a hearing less than four weeks after he was nominated.  He was reported from the Judiciary Committee by voice vote, and he was confirmed by the Senate by a voice vote.  That process of considering the Acosta nomination took just 36 days.  Republicans have dragged the process out on the Perez nomination to extend more than five times that long.

President Bush’s third nomination to head the Civil Rights Division, Wan Kim, was also considered and confirmed much more quickly than Mr. Perez.  Like his two predecessors, Mr. Kim was confirmed by the Senate by a voice vote.  There was no filibuster.  Mr. Kim resigned along with Attorney General Gonzales and the entire senior leadership of the Bush-Cheney Justice Department in the wake of the U.S. Attorney firing scandal and revelations of political hiring and decision-making that threatened the morale and independence of the Civil Rights Division and the Department.

Indeed, it was that scandal that prevented us from considering President Bush’s fourth nomination to head the Civil Rights Division.  Grace Chung Becker refused to answer many questions at her confirmation hearing about whether she was involved in politicized hiring and decision-making, repeatedly citing the then-ongoing internal investigation by the Department as a reason not to answer.  In light of Ms. Becker’s repeated invocation of the investigation in response to questions, we had to await its conclusion before moving forward on her nomination.  Unfortunately, the report from the Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility was not completed until it was too late to consider Ms. Becker’s nomination.   There is no similar cause to delay the consideration of Mr. Perez’s nomination.  We should instead have treated his nomination as we did that of Mr. Boyd, Mr. Acosta, and Mr. Kim.

This filibuster of Mr. Perez’s nomination is indicative of the double standard that Republican Senators seem intent to apply with a Democratic President.  It is wrong.  I am not saying that Republican Senators do not have the power under Senate Rules to do it.  I am not even saying that it is unconstitutional.  What I am saying is that it is not in the interest of the American people.  It is bad judgment.  It is misspent time, something we can ill afford.

Ten months into the President’s first term, 16 nominations reported by the Judiciary Committee remain pending on the Senate’s Executive Calendar, seven of them from before the last recess. Including the nomination of Mr. Perez, five of these nominations are for appointments to be Assistant Attorneys General at the Department of Justice, leaving five out of a total of 11 Divisions at the Department without a confirmed and appointed leader.  As a result of the delays and inaction by Senate Republicans, five critical divisions at the Department – the Office of Legal Counsel, the Civil Rights Division, the Tax Division, the Office of Legal Policy, and the Environment and Natural Resources Division – remain without Senate-confirmed presidential appointees to guide them. The Senate must do a better job in confirming the leadership team of the Justice Department to ensure that the Nation’s top law enforcement agency is fully equipped to do its job.  I hope that despite this unnecessary filibuster, Republicans and Democrats will now join together to confirm this well qualified nominee.

Mr. Perez has been nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division, which for 50 years has stood at the forefront of America’s march toward equality.  It has a long tradition of independent law enforcement that has helped transform the legal landscape of our country and brought us closer to the ideal of a “more perfect union.”  A strong and independent Civil Rights Division is crucial to the enforcement of our precious civil rights laws.
 
During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Perez made clear his commitment that the Justice Department would enforce the law.  In the arena of civil rights, living up to those assurances is particularly important, because the nation's civil rights laws ensure that the system works for all Americans – no matter the color of their skin, their gender, their religious affiliation or their sexual orientation.  The civil rights laws are the foundation of our Nation's aspiration toward a just and fair society.

That is why so many people were concerned during the last administration when we witnessed an abandonment of the Division’s finest traditions of independence and a rollback of the priorities upon which it was founded.  The report released nine months ago by the Justice Department’s Inspector General and Office of Professional Responsibility confirmed some of our worst fears about the last administration’s political corruption of the Civil Rights Division.  

The report confirmed our oversight findings that political appointees in the Division marginalized and forced out career lawyers because of ideology, and injected a political litmus test into the Division’s hiring process for career positions.  It should come as no surprise that the result and the intent of this political makeover of the Civil Rights Division led to a dismal civil rights enforcement record.  This report was just one of the final chapters in the regrettable legacy of damage that the Bush administration inflicted on the Justice Department, our civil rights, and our fundamental values.  It also reinforced the need for new leadership.
 
Given that Tom Perez has a distinguished record of public service and a long career advancing civil rights, I have full confidence that he is the right person to restore the Civil Rights Division to its finest traditions of independent law enforcement.  He is the first person nominated to head the Civil Rights Division in over 35 years who has experience as a career attorney in the Division.
 
In addition, he has worked on civil rights at various levels of Federal, state and local government, serving as Special Counsel to Senator Kennedy, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Director of the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, and currently as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulations.  His impressive credentials also include graduating from Brown University, Harvard Law School, and the Kennedy School of Government.  By confirming this highly qualified nominee today, we will take a significant step forward.
Numerous major civil rights and law enforcement organizations have written to endorse Mr. Perez’s nomination, including the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, the National Women’s Law Center, and the chief law enforcement officers of the States of Arizona, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Utah, Washington, and Vermont.  Those chief law enforcement officers wrote: “Secretary Perez’s qualifications and credentials are exceptional” and “[h]e is a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer whose breadth and depth of experience make him an ideal choice to lead the Civil Rights Division.”  The Leadership Conference of Civil Rights wrote: “It will take strong and reliable leadership combined with extensive experience at the Division to restore the Division to its previous prominence in the enforcement of civil rights laws.  Tom Perez is the right person to take on that challenge.”

Mr. Perez’s nomination has also earned support from both sides of the aisle.  Former Republican staff members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have described him as “a public official of the highest integrity . . . whom the Committee and the nation can be proud.”  These Republican staffers who worked with Mr. Perez describe him as a person “more interested in ‘moving the ball forward’ for the common good than in scoring political points at the expense of his adversaries.”  Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who worked with the nominee when he served as Maryland’s Secretary of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, wrote that Tom Perez is committed to “serving the public good.”  He also wrote “it is hard to imagine how President Obama and Attorney General Holder could have made a better choice.”  Senator Mikulski of Maryland said, “I am confident Tom Perez will get the Civil Rights Division back on track” and he “will restore our reputation . . . of tolerance and equal rights and protection for all.”

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Perez told the Committee that, if confirmed, he intends to make restoration of the Civil Rights Division and its mission a priority.  He also pledged to follow in the footsteps of his mentor and former boss Senator Kennedy and rekindle the bipartisanship that has characterized the fight for civil rights throughout our nation’s history by returning the Division to its law enforcement roots.  I urge all Senators to join me in voting to end this unnecessary filibuster and to support this well qualified nominee so that he can begin his long-delayed work for the American people.

# # # # #

Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693