The problem with Perez

The problem with Perez

April 01, 2013
Originally published in The Washington Times

If you saw a man standing outside the grocery store swinging a baton and glowering at passers-by, would you go inside?

Perhaps, but more likely you would decide you didn’t need arugula that night after all. True, the baton wielder never actually said, “Buy arugula and get beat down,” but then he didn’t really have to, did he?

Similarly, a man standing in front of a voting precinct would send equally unmistakable and threatening signals. On Election Day 2008, two men were famously filmed — one brandishing a weapon — in front of a polling place in Philadelphia.

You may think such blatant acts of voter intimidation would violate some sort of law, and you’d be right; specifically, Section 11(b) of the Voting Rights Act. Consequently, in the wake of the widely circulated video of the men intimidating voters, both members of the racialist New Black Panther Party, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division responded to public pressure by initiating an investigation and, ultimately, pursuing a civil action against the two Panthers who had become unwitting YouTube stars, as well as the Panther organization itself and its national chairman.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to justice. Legal actions against three of the four defendants were subsequently abandoned. Why? The Justice Department claimed insufficient evidence, but some observers wondered if there wasn’t something else going on. One former Justice Department lawyer intimately involved in the Black Panther case, J. Christian Adams, saw ideology behind much of the workings of the Obama Justice Department, including the decision to drop charges in the Black Panther case.”To some, the civil rights laws are not meant to protect all Americans. They are meant to protect certain Americans,” wrote Mr. Adams.Why does any of this matter now, more than four years after the Panthers brandished their weapons on behalf of Barack Obama? Because Thomas Perez, the man in charge of the Civil Rights Division throughout most of Black Panther drama, has now been tapped by the president to be the new secretary of labor.Unfortunately for Mr. Perez, the Panther case is not the only thing on his resume to suggest a less-than-zealous approach to equal enforcement of the law. He has come under fire from Sen. David Vitter, Louisiana Republican, for alleged less-than-equal enforcement of Louisiana’s voting procedures. Said Mr. Vitter in a statement: “Perez was greatly involved in the [Justice Department‘s] partisan full-court press to pressure Louisiana’s secretary of state to only enforce one side of the law — the side that specifically benefits the politics of the president and his administration at the expense of identity security of each and every Louisianian on the voter rolls.”Mr. Vitter claims Mr. Perez was less than concerned with purging ineligible voters from the rolls — noncitizens, convicted felons, etc. — people who could nonetheless be relied on to vote Democratic.Nor is that all. The Wall Street Journal recently ran a scathing editorial detailing how “Perez worked behind the scenes to undermine two civil cases against the City of St. Paul in order to stop a Supreme Court case that might have repudiated his discrimination-enforcement theories,” a story showing “how political muscle undermined the rule of law,” according to Journal editors.

It is not only in his capacity as a public official that Mr. Perez has been accused of helping to circumvent voting laws on behalf of reliably Democratic voters. Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has questioned Mr. Perez’s association with the controversial Maryland immigrant-advocacy group Casa de Maryland, which Mr. Sessions argues “has instructed illegal immigrants on how to escape detection, and also promoted illegal labor sites and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants.”

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. The pattern of Mr. Perez’s official life strongly suggests a willingness to use or ignore the law in service of ideological ends. At the Department of Labor, should he be confirmed, he will wield enormous regulatory power over every business in America. Every employer in the nation would rightly ask themselves under a Perez Labor Department: Will I get a fair shake under this man? Or will my politics prejudice him against me?

How ironic, considering how Mr. Perez has been so long charged with ensuring a legal system free from prejudice.