President Barack Obama plans to nominate Thomas Perez, an assistant attorney general for Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, to become the new secretary of Labor, according to The Hill on Saturday. But several Justice Department co-workers and citizens groups believe Perez is a radical leftist with his own political agenda.
Perez’s division has overseen several voting rights cases against South Carolina and Texas, as well as numerous probes of police and sheriff’s departments including that of Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio. However, Perez had been singled out by citizens groups and even fellow Justice Department staff members for his alleged improper conduct during an investigation of voter intimidation committed by the New Black Panther Party during the 2008 presidential election.
Christopher Coates, former voting chief for the department’s Civil Rights Division, testified in 2010 at a hearing before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, after outcries from citizens’ groups and a public-interest organization over the Justice Department’s stonewalling a full investigation of the New Black Panther Party’s actions during the presidential election.
Coates alleged that Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, for political reasons, dismissed intimidation charges against New Black Panther members who were videotaped outside a Philadelphia polling place in 2008 dressed in military-style uniforms — one was brandishing a nightstick — and allegedly hurling racial slurs.
However, the Justice Department reportedly tried to prevent Coates from testifying before Congress and subsequently transferred him to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.
The records, described in a Vaughn index produced pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit, contradict sworn testimony by Thomas Perez, who testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that no political leadership was involved in the decision Judicial Watch v. Department of Justice.
The “Vaughn index” describes documents responsive to the lawsuit being withheld in their entirety by the Justice Department. The index details a series of emails between Assistant Deputy Attorney General Steve Rosenbaum and Deputy Associate Attorney General Sam Hirsch, who was described by Slate magazine as a “DC election lawyer who represents a lot of Democrats” prior to joining the Justice Department, according to the public-interest group Judicial Watch, known for its investigation of public corruption.
The records disclosed to Judicial Watch seemingly contradict testimony by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on May 14, 2010. The Commission, an independent, bipartisan unit of the federal government charged with investigating and reporting on civil rights issues, initiated a probe of the Justice Department’s decision to drop its lawsuit. During the hearing, Perez was asked directly regarding the involvement of political leaders in the decision to dismiss the Black Panther case.
Perez also suggested that the dispute was merely “a case of career people disagreeing with career people.”
The Justice Department originally filed its lawsuit against the New Black Panther Party following the incident that took place outside of a Philadelphia polling station on November 4, 2008. A video of the incident, showing a member of the New Black Panther Party brandishing police-style baton weapon, was widely distributed on the Internet.
According to multiple witnesses, members of the New Black Panthers blocked access to polling stations, harassed voters and hurled racial epithets. Nonetheless, the Justice Department ultimately overruled the recommendations of its own staff and dismissed the majority of its charges.
At the hearing in the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights headquarters, J. Christian Adams accused the DOJ of racial bias for dropping charges against the New Black Panther Party. An attorney on the case, Adams testified that within the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division there is a pervasive and open hostility towards equal enforcement of the law. So insidious is this attitude that, according to Adams, even a minority DOJ employee was harassed by DOJ Voting Section staff for working on a case with white victims.
“It is very likely that Perez will continue his biased approach to civil rights as Obama’s new Labor secretary,” said political strategist and attorney, Mike Baker.