Sign-On Letter in Support of Tom Perez’ Nomination to be Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights

Media 04.27.09

Recipient: Senate Judiciary Committee

The Honorable Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman
433 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4502

The Honorable Senator Arlen Specter, Ranking Member
711 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3802

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Specter:
On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, and the undersigned organizations, we write to express our strong support for the nomination of Thomas E. (“Tom”) Perez to the position of Assistant Attorney General (“AAG”) for the Civil Rights Division (“CRT” or “the Division”) of the Department of Justice (“DOJ”). Mr. Perez has a breadth and depth of experience in public service, civil rights, management, and leadership that make him an exceptional candidate for this post. We applaud President Obama’s selection of him for this position and urge you to support this nomination.

The Civil Rights Division faces severe challenges in recovering from eight years of abhorrent policies ranging from the loss of a significant number of career staff, to unsavory hiring practices at DOJ, to the failure to fully enforce federal civil rights laws, including not actively pursuing pattern and practice cases. 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 is among the most qualified individuals to be nominated for this position. With experience in the executive and legislative branches at both the federal and state levels, Tom Perez knows the complexities of government work, understands the issues he will face, is committed to securing and defending civil rights, and has the management abilities necessary to oversee the CRT and return it to its former stature. After an impressive academic career, Mr. Perez spent his first ten years in practice at the Division, where he began as a federal prosecutor in the Criminal Section, and rose to become its Deputy Chief. As such, he is the first nominee for the AAG position in over thirty-five years who has had experience as a career Division attorney. He then became Special Counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy, serving as the Senator’s principal adviser on civil rights, criminal justice, and constitutional issues. In January 1998, Mr. Perez became Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice. He was then appointed Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”). After leaving the federal government, Mr. Perez served as a consultant on health care and civil rights issues; and taught and directed the clinical program at the University of Maryland Law School. He also was elected to the Montgomery County Council in 2002, and served as its President from December 2004 to December 2005. Mr. Perez was appointed Secretary of Maryland’s Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation by Governor Martin O’Malley in January 2007.

Tom Perez’s commitment to civil rights is clear and long-standing. While in the Criminal Section of the CRT, he successfully prosecuted civil rights cases nationwide related to police misconduct and racial violence, and supervised a staff of thirty. One of his most notable cases, for which he received the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service, involved the successful prosecution of three white supremacists in Texas for hate crimes. As Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Mr. Perez was engaged in departmentwide efforts to pass hate crimes legislation and address police misconduct. He also headed an interagency Worker Exploitation Taskforce to address the growing problem of worker exploitation around the country. As Director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS, he was integral to the Department’s initiative to end racial and ethnic disparities in health status. His accomplishments there also included expanding access for language minorities, working to find community-based health solutions for persons with disabilities, co-chairing a department-wide effort to address challenges to immigrants seeking health care access, and developing legislation for federal medical records privacy. As a member and president of the Montgomery County Council, he was instrumental in securing more affordable housing in the county and expanding health coverage for the uninsured.

In almost every position that Mr. Perez has held, he has risen to, or been appointed to, a management position. In the Civil Rights Division, he rose to become the Deputy Chief of the Criminal Section where he oversaw staff while maintaining his own caseload. As Deputy Assistant Attorney General, he managed the Criminal, Education, and Employment sections; one of his accomplishments included a thorough strategic review of the Education section to ascertain that it was fulfilling its mission of promoting equal opportunities in education. In the Office of Civil Rights in HHS, he not only managed a staff of more than 200, but also set enforcement priorities, oversaw a $28 million budget, and advised the Secretary. He led a major revitalization effort for the agency at a time when it was facing a crisis of morale. Currently, as head of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation for Maryland, Secretary Perez runs a 1,700 person agency with a $170 million budget. Through these experiences, Mr. Perez has shown himself to be a manager and leader who remains committed to his principles, can endure challenges, and get things done. This is the type of leadership that the Civil Rights Division sorely needs.

The Civil Rights Division was created just over 50 years ago with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957. Its mission is to provide equal treatment and equal justice under the law by enforcing and defending the civil rights of all Americans in areas such as education, employment, housing, voting, criminal justice, and public accommodations. The recent controversies and ideologically motivated decision-making of the Division directly challenge its core functions and have created a Division with low morale and little impact.

Because of the immediate and difficult tasks facing the Division, it is important that the next AAG has the ability to manage effectively, an understanding of the traditions and operations of the Division, a commitment to enforcing civil rights laws, and the vision of a leader to restore the functions of the CRT. We are confident that, along with Attorney General Eric Holder, Tom Perez will return the Division to its original promise, once again working to enforce the civil rights of all Americans. In light of Mr. Perez’s outstanding qualifications, we ask that you vote to confirm him quickly so that he can begin the important work of restoring the Civil Rights Division to its original stature and lead it into the 21st century.

Thank you for your consideration of our views. If you have any questions, please contact LCCR Senior Counsel Lisa Bornstein at [email protected] or (202) 263-2856 or Nancy Zirkin, Executive Vice President, at (202) 263-2880.


Leadership Conference on Civil Rights
ADA Watch
Alliance for Justice
American Association of University Women (AAUW)
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations AFL-CIO
Americans for Democratic Action
Asian American Justice Center
Bazelon Center
Feminist Majority
Human Rights Campaign
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
National Abortion Federation
National Asian Pacific American Bar Association
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Association of Consumer Advocates
National Coalition for Disability Rights (NCDR)
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
National Education Association
National Fair Housing Alliance
National Health Law Program
National Partnership for Women & Families
National Women’s Law Center
People For the American Way
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law