Thomas Perez deserves a vote

THOMAS PEREZ DESERVES A VOTE…. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the paralysis that too often grips Congress is the absurd nominating process. It’s become entirely routine for qualified nominees who enjoy more than enough support to be confirmed to wait for floor votes, indefinitely, for parochial, often ridiculous, reasons.

John McHugh’s nomination to be Secretary of the Army was held up because Kansas’ Republican senators didn’t want certain detainees locked up at Fort Leavenworth. Sen. George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio) put a hold on an EPA nominee, not because he was unqualified, but because Voinovich wanted a new report from the agency on the costs associated with cap and trade. Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) put a hold on an Interior Department nominee because Bennett had questions about oil and gas leases in Utah. OLC nominee Dawn Johnsen has been waiting patiently — for eight months.

Thomas Perez, meanwhile, is the president’s choice to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which was gutted during Bush’s terms. Perez’s qualifications are not in question — Wade Henderson of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights called Perez “arguably the most qualified candidate ever nominated” — but he has nevertheless been waiting for six months for the Senate to confirm him.

Adam Serwer reports on the problem.

Oddly, part of what seems to be holding up Perez’ nomination is a case Perez had nothing to do with: the Justice Department’s recent decision to dismiss a 2008 voter intimidation case involving the New Black Panther Party — a decision now under internal investigation. Some attorneys in the Voting Rights Section see the case as part of the leftover politicization from the Bush years, while Republicans have used the case to argue that the Department is now being politicized by Democrats.

Perez’ supporters argue since he wasn’t even employed by the Justice Department at the time, it’s absurd to hold up his confirmation because of the Black Panther case. “It just shows you how political and specious the arguments against him are,” says Henderson.

Senate Republicans have also expressed concern about Perez’ affiliation with what they see as “radical groups” — namely CASA de Maryland, whose work on behalf of immigrants is seen by conservatives as controversial. During Perez’s Senate hearings, Senator Jeff Sessions accused the group of “promoting illegal immigration” because they published a pamphlet informing undocumented immigrants about their legal rights if they are caught in an immigration raid.

Sessions seems to be at the center of the delays. Because Perez once lamented the “long history of xenophobes who oppose immigration,” the Alabama Republican has accused Perez of denigrating “those who stand for a lawful system of immigration and immigration enforcement.”

And so, Perez waits (and waits) for a simple vote to occur. In the meantime, the administration’s plan to get the Civil Rights Division back on track is partially on hold. As the legal director of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights told Adam, “It’s hard to implement a strategy for how the division’s going to operate without the head of the division there. There are a lot of decisions that aren’t being made because they’re waiting for the head person to come in.”