Rumors that President Barack Obama may tap controversial Labor Secretary Tom Perez to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder are drawing fire from government and labor watchdogs.
The White House is considering naming Perez to be the nation’s top law enforcement official, according to a report published Monday by Politico. Perez, a two-time Obama appointee at the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the Department of Labor, would succeed Holder, whose tenure was marred by controversy, scandal, and calls for his resignation.
"Perez fits all the qualities that Eric Holder had: A lack of ethics, disrespect for the rule of the law, and placing ideology first," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
Perez played a part in one of the first controversies that ensnared Holder when the Civil Rights division dropped voter intimidation charges against two members of the New Black Panther Party who brandished weapons outside of a Philadelphia polling place in 2008.
Perez’s division chose not to pursue charges over the objections of the attorneys in charge of the investigation. The DOJ’s handling of the case led the inspector general to review its operations, according to Fitton.
"Tom Perez was one of the reasons we need civil rights investigation at the civil rights division," Fitton said. "He was the point man in terms of enforcing law in racially biased manner."
Perez faced additional scrutiny when Obama nominated him to succeed former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis in 2013.
An inspector general’s report at the Civil Rights Division revealed that Perez thought voter protection laws "did not cover white citizens." A House Oversight Committee investigation found that Perez used his private email account to conduct government business, a practice that can be used to dodge transparency laws.
Perez narrowly won Senate confirmation to the Labor Department on a party line vote in 2013.
Labor watchdogs were also forceful in their opposition to Perez.
Ryan Williams of Worker Center Watch said that the labor secretary’s brief stint at the Labor Department has been defined by divisiveness and political ideology, rather than effective leadership or unbiased regulation. He pointed to the department’s funding of union front groups known as worker centers as an example of his bias.
"Perez has been charged with enforcing existing labor law. Unfortunately, he's chosen only to enforce the law when it applies to employers, not to the Administration's union allies," Williams said in a release. "While the politicization of federal agencies is running critique of the Obama administration, the Justice Department is the one agency that should remain above the fray of politics, and Perez has demonstrated that he is incapable of serving as a neutral arbiter of the law."
Patrick Semmens, a spokesman for the National Right to Work Foundation, said that Perez’s record gives no indication that he will abandon his politics to administer the law in a neutral manner.
"Tom Perez as Attorney General is a scary thought. If Perez is allowed to operate the Department of Justice the way he has run the Labor Department, he will consistently put the priorities of the president’s key political backers ahead of the rights of regular Americans," he said.
Perez passed the Senate labor committee on a party line vote. Fitton said that getting Senate confirmation previously is no guarantee that Perez will survive the extra scrutiny that comes with the attorney general’s office.
"Even in a lame duck session, he may be a bridge too far for Democrats," he said.
The White House did not return request for comment regarding Perez or other potential replacements.