Vitter: Thomas Perez? For Labor Secretary? Think Again, Obama

We’ve been waiting for someone from Louisiana to make a public statement on the absolutely unacceptable nomination of Thomas Perez as Labor Secretary, and today it came. Perez, Louisianans may know, is the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division – the tyrannical shop which is in the midst of suing the state of Louisiana for registering welfare recipients to vote with insufficient vigor. He’s also the man responsible for refusing to prosecute the New Black Panthers for one of the most textbook cases of voter intimidation imaginable, which should have gotten him fired in a more honorable administration rather than offered a cabinet position.

Applying the pushback to the Perez nomination is Sen. David Vitter. Hopefully there will be some state-level officials joining in today.

U.S. Sen. David Vitter announced his commitment to block the nomination of Thomas Perez as Secretary of the Labor Department until the Department of Justice responds to his 2011 letter related to spotty enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act in Louisiana. Perez was closely involved in the controversial New Black Panther voter intimidation case before the Department of Justice.

“Thomas Perez’s record should be met with great suspicion by my colleagues for his spotty work related to the New Black Panther case, but Louisianians most certainly should have cause for concern about this nomination,” said U.S. Sen. David Vitter. “Perez was greatly involved in the DOJ’s partisan full court press to pressure Louisiana’s Secretary of State to only enforce one side of the law – the side that specifically benefits the politics of the president and his administration at the expense of identity security of each and every Louisianian on the voter rolls.”

In the 2011 letter, Vitter asked the DOJ to be consistent in their efforts to enforce the National Voter Registration Act. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Vitter highlighted that DOJ filed a lawsuit against Louisiana alleging the state has not complied with Section 7 of NVRA, yet has done nothing to enforce Section 8 in other states. Thomas Perez is specifically named in the letter (bolded below).

Section 7 of NVRA requires certain government offices, such as those who provide welfare assistance, to provide voter registration forms. Section 8 requires states to conduct voter roll cleaning to purge ineligible felons, illegal aliens and deceased voters from corrupting the election process. The two provisions act together as counterparts.

The text of Vitter’s 2011 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder is below.

November 15, 2011
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530

Dear Attorney General Holder:

I’m deeply concerned with the Department of Justice’s selective enforcement of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), including in my state, Louisiana. News reports indicate that valuable resources were used to send undercover investigators to my state of Louisiana to interview welfare recipients to determine if state welfare offices are urging them to register to vote. The Department later filed a lawsuit against Louisiana alleging that the state has violated its obligations under Section 7 of the NVRA.

However, at the same time, absolutely no effort is being made to enforce Section 8 of the same law. Section 8 requires states to conduct voter roll cleaning to purge ineligible felons and dead voters from corrupting the election process. The two provisions act together as counterparts, but it is evident that the Justice Department is not enforcing them equally.

Section 8 is a key component of the law, because the longer these fraudulent names remain on a registration list, the greater the chances that a fraudulent vote will be cast in their names. As we approach an important presidential election in 2012, your dedication to enforcing both sections of the law to avoid fraud is paramount.

In recent years there have been reports that the administration is not interested in enforcing the Section 8 provision of the law. Christopher Coates, former Chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division, testified before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission that Julie Fernandez, who was appointed as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in 2009, told the Voting Section that the Obama administration was not interested in issues related to Section 8 and list maintenance enforcement activity.

In 2009 the administration dismissed without explanation a lawsuit filed against Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan during the Bush administration over her failure to comply with Section 8. Former Voting Section lawyer Christian Adams confirmed this in his 2010 testimony before the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Since returning to private practice, Adams has sent a series of warning letters to sixteen states in obvious violation of the law. These allegations are not based on mere speculation, but on a report filed with Congress by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission in June 2009 on the impact of the NVRA. The report includes voter-registration statistics for 2006-2008. According to the data, several states including Maryland, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Tennessee did not remove a single dead voter during that two-year reporting period.

Adams has utilized the private right of action under the NVRA because the Justice Department has inexplicably refused to sue any of these states for violation of Section 8. Even worse, South Dakota, Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, and Indiana all have more registered voters than people of voting age according to the Census. According to the EAC report, eight states appeared to be in major noncompliance with the list maintenance requirements of Section 8 of the NVRA, yet the Civil Rights Division failed to take any action. Christopher Coates has also testified that while he was Chief of the Voting Section, he actually assigned attorneys to work on this matter but was never given approval to go forward with Section 8 list maintenance investigations in any of these states.

I agree with Coates’ statement that it is an abuse of discretion to “decide not to do any enforcement of a law enacted by Congress, because political appointees determine that they are not interested in enforcing that law.” I can think of no justifiable reason why the section of the Justice Department tasked with the responsibility of enforcing the NVRA failed to do so. It’s appalling that a private citizen has to carry out the responsibility of the Justice Department. I am especially concerned that the Department appears to have refused to fulfill its duty for ideological and political reasons that have nothing to do with the impartial administration of justice.

When Tom Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, announced the lawsuit against Louisiana, he stated: “The department is committed to enforcing the National Voter Registration Act so that neither income nor disability status stands in the way of equal voter registration opportunities for all citizens.” Justice must fully enforce this law, rather than refusing to enforce the voter list integrity provisions while making the welfare agency registration law its top priority. The Civil Rights Division does not have the right to pick and choose which laws are worthy of enforcement and which ones are not. I urge you to personally ensure that the Justice Department does not enable voter fraud by neglecting to enforce Section 8 of the NVRA.

I look forward to your response, detailing exactly how the Department of Justice will ensure full enforcement of all sections of the law, including Section 8. 

David Vitter
United States Senator

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