WASHINGTON – Takoma Park resident Thomas E. Perez was confirmed Tuesday as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, nearly four months after his nomination was reported to the Senate.
“I’m proud to be a Marylander and appreciative of efforts of Sen. (Ben) Cardin and (Sen. Barbara) Mikulski in securing my confirmation,” Perez said. “The civil rights challenges in Maryland are similar to the challenges across the country so I can use my experiences.”
In the end, the overwhelming 72-22 confirmation vote did not reflect the political maneuvering that took place in the months leading up to it.
Perez was nominated by President Obama in March and quickly cleared his first hurdle with approval from a Senate Judicial Committee hearing chaired by Maryland Democrat Cardin.
The final confirmation vote, however, ran into roadblocks as Republican senators held the vote once it reached the Senate floor. Then, the Senate Judiciary Committee put Perez’s nomination on the back burner while members focused on confirming Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The hold ended Tuesday afternoon when Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., called for a vote after speaking with his Republican colleagues.
“Tom Perez has been an aggressive champion for justice and the public good his entire career,” Cardin said in a written statement. “The Civil Rights Division is our nation’s moral conscience and, with Tom’s leadership, will again be empowered to take action against those who violate our laws.”
This January, the Office of the Inspector General publicly released an investigation of the Department of Justice 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 probe alleges the office based its hiring of employees on their political beliefs.
“I am confident Tom Perez will get the Civil Rights Division back on track and enforce this country’s civil rights laws to combat discrimination, protect minorities and hold violators accountable,” said Mikulski. “He will restore its reputation as embodying this country’s value of tolerance and equal rights and protection for all.”
During a speech on the Senate floor in support of Perez, Cardin expressed his low opinion of the Justice Department’s leadership under the Bush administration.
“The previous administration had an Attorney General who lacked independent judgment in criminal investigations, personnel decisions and the protection of constitutional liberties,” Cardin said.
Perez has already served 10 years in the Department of Justice. After completing a law degree from Harvard, Perez began at the Civil Rights Division as a trial attorney in the Criminal Section.
He also worked in Sen. Edward Kennedy’s office as his principal adviser on civil rights, criminal justice, juvenile justice and constitutional issues.
More recently, Perez served on the Montgomery County Council in Maryland before serving in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Cabinet as the Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.