October 06, 2009

EXECUTIVE NOMINATION OF THOMAS E. PEREZ, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE CIVIL RIGHTS DIVISION

Mr. President, I rise today to talk about the nomination of Thomas Edward Perez, the nominee for the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.

 

Let me begin with a quote, from Elie Wiesel.   He once said "indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred."   We as a nation must not tolerate discrimination, fraud, or corruption in our society. The Civil Rights Division is our nation's moral conscience and is charged with protecting all Americans against discrimination throughout our society.   Whether it is discrimination in employment, education, housing, voting, personal liberties or hate crimes, the Civil Rights Division must take action and not stand on the sidelines against those that violate our laws.

 

I understand, and I think we all understand, that there are many problems in the country today. Our nation is in the midst of an economic downfall, we are at war, unemployment is on the rise, and our environment is suffering. But we must remember that despite all these problems, we must not and cannot forget about civil rights protections in our country. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said we must be true to what we put down on paper, which means we must enforce the laws that protect our citizens from discrimination.   The past eight years has not lived up to staying true to what we put on paper. Over the past eight years we have seen a serious and disheartening decline in the number of cases brought by the Civil Rights Division.

The Voting Section had not filed any cases on behalf of African American voters during a five year period, nor did it file any cases on behalf of Native-American voters throughout the entire Bush Administration.   In past years, we saw the Division use its enforcement authority to deny access and instead promote barriers to block legitimate voters from participating in the political process.   Only 46 Title VII complaints were filed by the Civil Rights Division in 7 years. This is sharp contrast to the Division under the Clinton Administration which initiated 11 Title VII cases per year.   Hate groups have increased by 50% since 2000.   The Civil Rights Division has a lot of work to do and I believe the President's nominee to head the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez, is the best person to lead the division back to prosecuting those offenders that break our laws.

I have also consistently expressed my grave concern with the mismanagement of the Civil Rights Division under the Bush Administration.   Throughout the last Congress, my concerns were unfortunately confirmed.   The previous Administration had an Attorney General who lacked independent judgment in criminal investigations, personnel decisions and the protection of constitutional liberties. The Department became politicized, so much so that their own Office of Professional Responsibility and the Office of the Inspector General began independent investigations of political appointees at the Department. The joint report was publicly released on January 13, 2009, and it painted a devastating portrait of the Civil Rights Division during the tenure of Bradley Schlozman, first as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General, and then as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Division.

 

The report found that Schlozman "considered political and ideological affiliations in hiring career attorneys and in other personnel actions affecting career attorneys in the Civil Rights division.   In doing so, he violated federal law - the Civil Service Reform Act - and Department policy that prohibit discrimination in federal employment based on political and ideological affiliations, and committed misconduct…Moreover, Schlozman made false statements about whether he considered political and ideological affiliations when he gave sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee and in his written responses to supplemental questions from the Committee."

 

Other internal Justice Department reports detailed the improper selection, hiring, and politicization of the Honors Program and Summer Law Intern Program.   The Committee's investigation into the dismissal of U.S. Attorneys for failing to bring spurious voter fraud cases also contributed to the resignation of former Attorney General Gonzales.

 

I had the honor of chairing the confirmation hearing for Mr. Perez on April 29 in the Judiciary Committee, where I was able to discuss the troubling concerns I had with the division. I also expressed the importance of restoring the division to its historic goals of prosecuting civil rights offenses in our country.   After hearing much testimony and reviewing his written responses to Senators' questions, I am certain that Mr. Perez is the right person for the job.  I also want to make note that Mr. Perez's nomination passed the Judiciary Committee by a strong bipartisan vote of 17-2.

 

He comes before the Senate with an impressive range of experience in civil rights issues as well as management experience, and is uniquely qualified to help get the Civil Rights Division back on the right track.   He has had a long and distinguished career in public service.   After law school, Mr. Perez clerked for a year and then went on to join the Department of Justice, where he served for 10 years.   He began at the Civil Rights Division as a trial attorney in the Criminal Section.   Through the years, he moved up the ladder within the division, first as a trial attorney in the Criminal Section, then as deputy chief of the Criminal Section, and finally as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.

 

 He was also detailed to Senator Edward Kennedy's office as his principal advisor on civil rights, criminal justice, juvenile justice and constitutional issues. During his time at the Department of Justice, within the Civil Rights Division, he took on white supremacists, police brutality, corruption, and many additional civil rights violations.   He also received the second highest award, the Attorney General's Distinguished Service Award, at the Department of Justice for his work.

 

After leaving the Department of Justice, he went on to the US Department of Health and Human Services where he became the director of the Office for Civil Rights.   While at Health and Human Services, he was involved in developing landmark medical records privacy regulations which for the first time established a federal right to medical records privacy. After leaving HHS, he began consulting on health care and civil rights issues. He also served on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland.   He became the first Latino ever to serve on the council as well as the first Latino president of the Council.   Tom Perez is currently serving in Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's cabinet as the Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.   As a Maryland resident myself, I can state that Secretary Perez has done an exceptional job protecting and empowering Maryland workers.   Mr. Perez has shown leadership in all aspects of his work.

            It is an honor to support such a well qualified and truly committed individual to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.   I urge my colleagues to support his nomination.