Race-Baiting Kicks Off GOP Fight Against Obama’s Labor Pick

Ian Becker

Congressional Republicans have begun martialling objections to President Obama's Labor Secretary nominee, and Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was first out of the gate. In a statement, Vitter urged his colleagues to meet Thomas Perez, the current head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, with "great suspicion…for his spotty work related to the New Black Panther case." The case in question was filed by the Bush administration in 2009, just before Obama's inauguration, and involved allegations that two members of the New Black Panther Party exercised voter intimidation tactics on Election Day in 2008. There's a hitch, however, in Vitter's argument, as Slate notes: Perez did not join the Civil Rights Division until October 2009, five months after the case had closed. (In the end, the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ found that three of the four defendants had not gone outside of their First Amendment rights, though an injunction was won against one man, King Samir Shabazz, barring him from carrying a weapon at polling places through 2013. The report also concluded that there was no evidence of a coordinated effort on behalf of the New Black Panther Party, and that the complaints had come from white Republican poll watchers who were not registered to vote in the precinct.) Vitter used the same "connection" to try and kindle opposition to Perez's nomination to the post of Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the DOL in 2009, but was unsuccessful in convincing fellow legislators of the credibility of his claims. This time around, conservatives seem to be jumping on the New Black Panther connection, while largely ignoring Vitter's other objection to Perez, a complaint that the DOJ unfairly singled Louisiana out for failing to comply with Section 7 of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). Rush Limbaugh called Perez a "Hugo Chavezite" who "may be the most radical left-wing cabinet member in history." The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Perez is currently the only Latino nominated to Obama's second-term cabinet.

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