By: Arlene Brens, FellowPosted on June 4, 2009 Issues: Workplace

by Arlene Brens, Fellow, 
National Women's Law Center 

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to approve the nomination of Thomas Perez to be Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division with a bipartisan vote of 17 to 2. The National Women’s Law Center strongly supports his nomination.

The Division enforces many laws that women depend on (such as Title IX, Title VII, and the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act), and it is in desperate need of new leadership: the number of Title VII employment discrimination cases filed under the Bush Administration decreased dramatically as compared to the Clinton Administration. As a result of the Division’s severe shortcomings over the past 8 years, the Division needs Mr. Perez to restore its moral conscience.

As a lifelong civil rights advocate and public servant, Mr. Perez is no stranger to enforcing civil rights protections. He prosecuted hate crimes among other things while at the Civil Rights Division and led the Office of Civil Rights in Health and Human Services (HHS) where his passion became eradicating racial and ethnic disparities in health care.  Mr. Perez recognizes the challenges women face in our society; for example, he stated that despite the progress made since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, “the earnings gap between men and women” still persists. Currently, he serves as Secretary of the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation where he works to enforce laws that protect consumers. In his capacity as Secretary of DLLR, Mr. Perez has supported implementing the recommendations of the Maryland Equal Pay Commission which helped ease the passage of a 2008 pay disparity data bill that later passed in Maryland.

Mr. Perez’s testimony during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee last month also demonstrated his commitment to the enforcement of civil rights. Mr. Perez not only recognized that the ills of racial profiling still exist, but he affirmed his commitment to working with Senator Russ Feingold (D) in supporting racial profiling legislation if confirmed. In addition, he reminded Senator Tom Coburn (R) that unfortunately discrimination persists in healthcare. As an example, Mr. Perez cited two cases he worked on as Director of the Office of Civil Rights at HHS during the late 1990s, including a case where a hospital had segregated its maternity ward by race. Mr. Perez acknowledged that progress has been made in combating discrimination in healthcare, but he noted that “we have all too many case examples of demonstrating pockets of consistent discrimination.” Finally, Mr. Perez assured the Committee that if confirmed, he would continue the Department of Justice’s policy allowing attorneys to take on pro bono projects.

Women and families have waited long enough for the Civil Rights Division to protect and enforce their rights. It is therefore of utmost importance that the Senate quickly confirm the nomination of Thomas Perez to head the Civil Rights Division. Any delay in confirming Mr. Perez is a delay in securing justice for all Americans.