The son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Thomas Edward Perez was born October 7, 1961 in Buffalo, New York. He earned an A.B. in international relations and political science from Brown University in 1983, a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1987, and a Master of Public Policy from the JFK School of Government, also in 1987.
From 1987-89 Perez was a law clerk for Judge Zita Weinshienk of the U.S. District Court in Colorado. In the early 1990s he served as a prosecutor, and later as deputy chief, in the Civil Rights Division (CRD) of Bill Clinton‘s Department of Justice (DOJ). From 1995-98, Perez worked as special counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy.
In 1996 Perez was instrumental in facilitating the passage of the Church Arson Prevention Act, a bill founded on the false premise that African American churches were being targeted at a disproportionately high rate by arsonists.
From 1998-99, Perez returned to the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division as deputy assistant attorney general. In this role, he helped establish the Worker Exploitation Task Force, which sought to improve the working conditions of illegal aliens. Moreover, he worked to eliminate the disproportionate assignment of black and Hispanic students to special-education programs; to increase the number of such students in “gifted and talented” programs; to prosecute federal civil-rights cases involving police misconduct and hate crimes; and to eliminate racial profiling by law-enforcement.
Also during his tenure with the Clinton DOJ, Perez volunteered for—and later (from 1995-2002) became a board member (and president) of—Casa de Maryland, a George Soros–funded advocacy group for illegal aliens.
From February 1999 until the end of the Clinton administration, Perez served as director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
As a member of Maryland’s Montgomery County Council in 2003, Perez (who served on the Council from 2002-06) called for the state to recognize the notoriously fraud-prone matricula consular ID cards issued by Mexican and Guatemalan consular offices as a valid form of ID for illegal immigrants in the United States—even though allowing such IDs could give illegals easier access to government-funded social services. That same year, he sponsored a Montgomery County bill aimed at giving illegal immigrants access to banks.
Perez has also supported a policy that would permit illegal immigrants who attend college in their state of residence to qualify for the same discounted, in-state tuition rates that are available to legal residents.
In 2004 Perez went before the Maryland state legislature to testify against a number of immigration-enforcement bills, including one that sought to prevent illegal immigrants from acquiring driver’s licenses, and another proposing that people be required to prove their citizenship before registering to vote. Moreover, Perez opposed efforts to study and document the financial burdens that illegal immigrants placed on the Maryland state budget.
In 2006 Perez wrote a scathing Mother Jones piece denouncing an amendment authored by Oklahoma Republican senator Tom Coburn that would have repealed a Clinton-administration executive order requiring doctors to provide translators for non-English-speaking patients. Accusing Coburn (who is a medical doctor by training) of having “exhibited a distressing disregard for the doctor-patient relationship,” Perez said that the proposed amendment (which ultimately did not pass) would “undermine meaningful communication between doctors and patients, thus relegating those who do not speak English to a lower rung of our health care system.” Coburn disagreed vehemently:
“After all my years of practicing medicine, I take offense at someone stating that I have a ‘distressing disregard’ for the doctor-patient relationship. I have treated numerous patients who do not speak English and found ways to communicate with them. Often these patients have family members who speak some English or they find other ways to communicate. There is no reason to burden health-care providers with the expense of having to provide services in languages other than English.”
From 2001 to 2007, Perez was a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. He has also worked as a part-time faculty member at the George Washington University School of Public Health.
In 2008 Perez worked on Barack Obama’s presidential campaign and then served on the transition team after Obama’s electoral victory. On March 31, 2009, President Obama nominated Perez to be Assistant Attorney General for the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division (CRD). The U.S. Senate confirmed Perez in October 2009.
Upon taking office, Perez declared that CRD’s mission was to help those Americans who were “living in the shadows”—a reference not only to illegal immigrants, but also to: “our Muslim-American brothers and sisters subject to post-9/11 backlash”; “communities of color disproportionately affected by the subprime meltdown”; “LGBT brothers and sisters … forced to confront discrimination”; and “all too many children lacking quality education.”
From the start of his work with the Obama administration, Perez pledged to greatly expand DOJ’s prosecution of alleged hate crimes, which he depicts as a predominantly white-on-black phenomenon. He also made it clear that he viewed “disparate impact”—i.e., instances where particular employment- or education-related policies affect whites and nonwhites in different ways—as prima facie proof of discrimination. (An example would be when a company makes its hiring or promotion decisions based on exam scores, and whites as a group score higher than nonwhites.) Consider the following facts:
In Perez’s view, compensatory payments to plaintiffs who win judgments in civil-rights cases should go not only to the actual victims of discrimination, but additionally to “qualified organization[s]” approved by the Justice Department. Such a policy enables DOJ to funnel cash into the coffers of activist groups that share the presidential administration’s political agendas.
In 2009, Perez and CRD pressured several universities to discontinue an experimental program whereby students could purchase their textbooks in digital formats which they could read via the Amazon Kindle, because the Kindle—notwithstanding its text-to-voice feature (for the narration of books)—was not fully accessible (in its menu options) to blind students. Until the Kindle rectified this injustice, said Perez, universities that made their textbooks available on the e-reader would be investigated for possible violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
That same year, Perez and CRD launched an investigation of Maricopa County, Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, known for his strict enforcement of federal immigration laws. This investigation grew out of a February 2009 demand—by Democratic Representatives John Conyers, Zoe Lofgren, Jerrold Nadler, and Bobby Scott—that the Justice Department look into allegations of Arpaio’s “discriminatory” police practices toward illegal aliens. Though the accusers had no evidence of any wrongdoing by Arpaio, CRD initiated its inquiry within a month. In 2010, Perez would lead the Obama Justice Department in filing a lawsuit against Arpaio.
Also in 2010, Perez and CRD led the fight against an Arizona law deputizing state police to check the immigration status of any criminal suspects who they believed might be in the U.S. illegally.
In January 2010 Perez told AFL-CIO leaders that if Martin Luther King Jr. were still alive: “he would continue his quest for economic justice, for all Americans to be able to access the great wealth and promise of our nation”; he would urge our nation’s leaders to move forward on health care reform”; and he would call “for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.” Perez then proceeded to depict America as a nation rife with injustice and maltreatment against many groups of people. For instance, he said:
On April 20, 2010, Perez testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the subject of his efforts to combat discrimination in housing, money lending, employment, and police work.
Perez consistently emphasized CRD’s “critical work” of “monitoring federal, state, and local elections across the country to ensure that voting takes place free of unlawful intimidation.” But in June 2010, J. Christian Adams, a five-year DOJ veteran, resigned to protest the “corrupt nature” of DOJ’s dismissal of a case involving two Philadelphia-based members of the New Black Panther Party who had intimidated white voters with racial slurs and threats of violence on Election Day, 2008. Adams cited Perez and Thomas Perrelli (the associate attorney general) as the two DOJ officials most responsible for dropping the case. In July 2010, Adams gave damning public testimony about how Perez and other Obama DOJ officials believed that “civil rights law should not be enforced in a race-neutral manner, and should never be enforced against blacks or other national minorities.”
In September 2010, Christopher Coates—Voting Section Chief for the DOJ—testified to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and corroborated Adams’ assertion that the Department had routinely ignored civil rights cases involving white victims. For more than a year, Perez had denied the Commission’s requests to hear Coates’ testimony and had instructed Coates not to testify. But in September 2010, Coates finally chose to go public with his story and asked for protection under whistleblower laws. (For the full text of Coates’ testimony, click here.) In a similar vein, an inspector general report released in March 2013 stated that Perez believed voting rights laws did “not cover white citizens.”
Perez played a key role in opening investigations of several large urban police departments for systematic civil-rights abuses such as harassment of racial minorities, false arrests, and excessive use of force. In 2011, for instance, Perez’s CRD initiated a high-profile push to reform the New Orleans Police Department; “pattern and practice” investigations of police departments in Newark and Seattle; and a preliminary investigation of the Denver Police Department. These actions were consistent with what Perez had stated in September 2010: “In case you haven’t heard, the Civil Rights Division is once again open for business. There were very few [pattern and practice] cases during the prior administration.” On another occasion (in April 2010), Perez had stated: “Criminal prosecutions alone, I have learned, are not enough to change the culture of a police department.” As of March 2013, Perez had initiated 17 probes of police and sheriff’s departments across the United States—more probes of that type than CRD had ever previously conducted under any individual’s leadership.
In 2011, Perez led a DOJ lawsuit against Alabama’s recently passed anti-illegal immigration law (HB-56), similar to Arizona’s 2010 law.
In July 2011, Perez addressed a luncheon meeting of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), a pro-amnesty immigration group with which he has long had a close relationship. In his remarks, Perez praised NCLR’s work and expressed gratitude for its steadfast support of President Obama’s agendas. He also lauded the organization’s members as valuable “change agents” and “serial activists” who “will [help] move America forward.” And he characterized opponents of immigration reform as racists: “It’s undeniable that what else we see out there in America is an absolute headwind of intolerance, and it’s a headwind of intolerance that has been manifested in many different ways shapes and forms.”
In August-September 2011, PJ Media published Every Single One, a 12-part series of exposes revealing that, without exception, every attorney hired by Perez’s CRD had a leftist or Democrat activist pedigree. When PJ Media initially asked to see the resumes of these hires, the Justice Department refused to provide them. Thus PJ was forced to sue Attorney General Eric Holder in federal court under the Freedom of Information Act, and thereby gained access to the data it sought. To view this 12-part series, click here.
By Perez’s reckoning, voter ID laws are racist constructions calculated to deprive nonwhites of their voting rights. Indeed, Perez led the Obama administration’s assault on voter ID laws during the run-up to the 2012 elections.
In December 2011, for instance, the Justice Department blocked a new South Carolina law requiring voters to present valid identification at their polling places on election day. Claiming that the law discriminated against minority voters, Perez wrote: “Although the state has a legitimate interest in preventing voter fraud and safeguarding voter confidence … the state’s submission did not include any evidence or instance of either in-person voter impersonation or any other type of fraud that is not already addressed by the state’s existing voter identification requirement.” Perez further contended that the law violated Section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, because 8.4% of the state’s registered white voters lacked photo ID, compared to 10% of nonwhite voters.1
In late May 2012, Perez and DOJ ordered the state of Florida to halt its efforts—which were already underway—to verify the identity and eligibility of the people listed on its voter rolls. DOJ explained its actions by saying that it had not yet been able to verify that Florida’s efforts “neither have the purpose nor will have the effect of discriminating on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.” In a letter (dated June 11) to the Florida Secretary of State, Perez charged that Florida was violating the National Voter Registration Act and the Voting Rights Act. “Please immediately cease this unlawful conduct,” he wrote.
Florida was not compliant with DOJ, however. “We have an obligation to make sure the voter rolls are accurate and we are going to continue forward and do everything that we can legally do to make sure than ineligible voters cannot vote,” said Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida secretary of state Ken Detzner. “We are firmly committed to doing the right thing and preventing ineligible voters from being able to cast a ballot. We are not going to give up our efforts to make sure the voter rolls are accurate.” Earlier that year, Florida election officials had identified some 53,000 still-registered voters who were deceased, and another 2,600 who were non-citizens. In fact, state officials estimated that the total number of non-citizens on Florida’s registered-voter rolls was as high as 182,000. Nevertheless, DOJ filed suit against Florida on June 12, 2012. “Because the State has indicated its unwillingness to comply with [DOJ’s] requirements, I have authorized the initiation of an enforcement action against Florida in federal court,” said Perez.
In early August 2012, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona), a member of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, asked Perez: “Will you tell us here today that this Administration’s Department of Justice will never entertain or advance a proposal that criminalizes speech against any religion?” Perez refused to answer, four separate times. Breitbart.com provided some context for this:
“Last October, at George Washington University, there was a meeting between DOJ officials, including Perez, and Islamist advocates against free speech. Representatives from the Islamist side included Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)…. The leader of the Islamist [side] was Sahar Aziz, an Egyptian-born American lawyer and Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a Muslim advocacy group based in Michigan. At the meeting, the Islamists lobbied for: cutbacks in U.S. anti-terror training; limits on the power of terrorism investigators; changes in agent training manuals; [and] a legal declaration that criticism of Islam in the United States should be considered racial discrimination. Aziz said that the word ‘Muslim’ has become ‘racialized’ and, once American criticism of Islam was silenced, the effect would be to ‘take [federal] money away from local police departments and fusion centers who are spying on all of us.'”
In early 2013, Perez told Congress that his CRD had filed “a record eight lending-related federal lawsuits” in 2011, resulting in eight settlements that netted “more than $350 million in relief to the victims of illegal lending practices.” In many of those cases, Perez used disparate impact analysis to advance the notion that if banks were rejecting white and nonwhite loan applicants at different rates, they were, by definition (and regardless of intent), engaging in discrimination that violated the Fair Housing Act. For example:
On March 18, 2013, President Obama nominated Perez to be the U.S. Secretary of Labor, replacing outgoing Secretary Hilda Solis.
In a May 2013 hearing before members of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees, Perez testified that he could not recall ever having used his personal Verizon email account to conduct Justice Department business at his Takoma Park, Maryland home. This was an important matter because — in the interests of transparency — it is illegal for government employees to conduct government business on a personal email account. Perez was then confronted with emails showing conclusively that he had in fact conducted DOJ business on his home Verizon account, and he conceded their authenticity.
Under Perez, the DOJ repeatedly slow-walked efforts intended to help ensure that overseas military personnel (who tend to support Republican candidates by a wide margin) could exercise their voting rights. Meanwhile, Perez’s division strove—without jurisdiction—to help felons (who overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates) regain voting privileges in a number of states.
During his tenure with CRD, Perez was a featured speaker at a number of events held by the American Constitution Society, telling its members that “your mission and ours [at CRD] share a lot in common.”
Perez was confirmed as U.S. Labor Secretary by the Senate on July 18, 2013, and was sworn in five days later.
In August 2013, Perez, who has repeatedly called for increases in the minimum wage, stated: “The living-wage strikes that we’ve seen recently … really stand for the proposition that nobody who works a 40-hour week should have to live in poverty. Time and time again, after the minimum wage has been raised, those sky-is-falling predictions have been disproved.”
In a July 2014 speech he delivered to hundreds of black students at Howard University, Perez denounced the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline” that allegedly funneled large numbers of African American youth into the O.S. prison system without cause. To drive the point home, Perez stated that school authorities in Mississippi had recently had black high-schoolers arrested for infractions as small as wearing the “wrong color tie” or the “wrong color socks,” or for “flatulence.” “I’m not making this up,” Perez assured. “This is Meridian, Mississippi, where we still see separate and unequal…. We thought we had made progress [but] this is America” today. Hoover Institution Fellow Paul Sperry subsequently revealed Perez’s willful duplicity:
“[Perez] was making it up. Meridian Public School District students have never been jailed simply for breaking school dress code, as he implied. That would be false imprisonment. They have, however, been mildly disciplined for wearing the wrong uniform to school. Meridian, which is mostly black, has a strict dress code to prevent gang violence…. Perez conflated the circumstances, even though he knew better…. Perez made it sound as if Meridian were run by a bunch of white, racist Bull Connors. What he failed to mention is that the Meridian school superintendent, Dr. Alvin Taylor, and four of the five Meridian school board members are all black. So is the judge running the juvenile court…. Why would this Cabinet official [Perez] say [this] to an audience of black students? There’s only one explanation: To rile young African-Americans up about the specter of a still-racist America.”
On February 25, 2017, Perez defeated Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison by a margin of 235 votes to 200, in a race for chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Perez’s victory came in the second round of voting, after he had fallen one vote short of winning in the first round.
In May 2020, while the U.S. was battling a deadly coronavirus pandemic that had already killed many thousands of people, Perez accused President Donald Trump of attempting to “steal the [November presidential] election” by opposing a Democrat proposal for nationwide vote-by-mail as a means of preventing voters from contracting the illness at polling places. Hayes then played a film clip of Trump saying: “Common sense would tell you it’s massive manipulation can take place, massive. They — and you do —you have cases of fraudulent ballots where they actually print them and give them to people to sign, maybe the same person signs them with different writing, different pens. I don’t know. A lot of things can happen. If you can, you should go and vote. Voting is an honor. It shouldn’t be something where they send you a pile of stuff, and you send it back.” In response to those comments, Perez said to Hayes:
“Voting isn’t simply an honor, Chris, voting is a fundamental right. People pay the ultimate price to exercise the right to vote. And in a pandemic, the notion that you have a president going after Republican and Democratic secretaries of state in the middle of a pandemic … What we have to do between now and November is make sure that every single voter in every single state has a choice. The choice to vote on election day. So the choice to early vote, the more days of early voting, the more social distancing you do and the right to vote absentee with no excuse, the right to vote by mail. Republicans and Democrats agree on that. This president, in a desperate effort to steal an election, is going to stop at nothing.”
Perez declined to run for re-election as DNC chairman in 2021, and Jaime Harrison, the former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, was elected as his successor on January 21, 2021.
1 It is noteworthy that in 2005, the DOJ itself had approved a Georgia law with the same provisions and protections, and in 2008, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that an Indiana law requiring photo ID did not present an undue burden on voters. Furthermore, South Carolina’s law explicitly addressed potential disenfranchisement by offering state-issued IDs free of charge, and free transportation to anyone who needed a ride to a location where a picture ID could be obtained. An extensive data review conducted by Department of Motor Vehicles Director Kevin Shwedo found that more than 900 deceased people had “voted” in recent elections in South Carolina, demonstrating that a voter ID policy could have been useful in South Carolina.