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Editorial: A green light for Perez

With members of the U.S. Senate reaching a compromise to allow confirmation votes for presidential appointees, thereby avoiding the much-discussed nuclear option of eliminating a 60-vote threshold for some decisions, Tom Perez will become the country’s next secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor.

The deal, reached earlier this week, calls for Republicans to allow confirmation votes; Democrats will withdraw two contentious National Labor Relations Board nominees.

If nothing else, the agreement means that a critical check on one-party rule — the filibuster — will remain intact. In fact, this sort of haggling is exactly what filibusters should do: force antagonistic party members to interact with each other in hopes that a more moderate position is reached.

For Perez, this is the culmination of an impressive legal and political career that took the son of Dominican Republic immigrants to Brown University, Harvard Law School, the Montgomery County Council and a cabinet-level position as secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Perez left that post for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he now heads the civil rights division. He also served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights under Attorney General Janet Reno and as Special Counsel to the late Senator Edward Kennedy’s principal adviser on civil rights, criminal justice and constitutional issues. For the final two years of the Clinton administration, he served as Director of the Office for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Clearly the resumé is where it should be.

Republicans have brought forth concerns regarding Perez, such as his failure to intervene in a whistleblower suit against the city of St. Paul — a trade-off the city suggested for dropping its fair-housing case. Also, some have made hay over a report that said Perez gave incomplete testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights when he said the department’s political leadership was not involved in the decision to dismiss three of the four defendants in a lawsuit the Bush administration brought against the New Black Panther Party.

Some have questioned his affiliation with Casa de Maryland, an immigrant advocacy group.

Such grousing is to be expected, but Perez is more than qualified for the post and, ultimately, unless there are egregious problems, the makeup of the presidential cabinet should be the president’s choice.

Perhaps Perez’s qualifications are best demonstrated by his views on one of the important roles of government. In a 2010 speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins, Perez talked about the role of the civil rights division.

“We know that the landmark civil rights laws already on the books have holes yet to be filled, and we are working to pursue policies that protect the rights of all individuals. The recent enactment of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Protection Act was a good start in that direction. The Obama Administration has also expressed strong support for passage of the Employment Non?Discrimination Act to protect LGBT individuals from workplace discrimination, and we feel confident that it will happen in 2010.

“We are restoring and transforming the Civil Rights Division — not in an effort to re?create the Civil Rights Division of an earlier era, but rather to prepare ourselves to tackle the challenges before us today, and to ensure we are nimble enough to address the challenges on the horizon.”

Sounds like a good fit for the Department of Labor.

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