Shurtleff: Perez for Labor Secretary
Following the recent confirmation hearing, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will soon need to decide how to vote on the nomination of Thomas Perez, an accomplished public servant who has been nominated by President Barack Obama to join his Cabinet as secretary of Labor. Although he and I are from different places on the political spectrum and have at times been on different sides of legal issues, I can confidently say that our country is fortunate to have the benefit of his service.
As the chief law enforcement officers of our states, it is imperative that attorneys general be able to work in close collaboration with the Department of Justice. I and a bipartisan group of state AGs who worked directly with Perez over the years recently published a statement in support of his nomination concluding that we “found Perez to be open, responsive and fundamentally fair. He is committed to justice and the rule of law and able to work across party and philosophical lines to achieve just results. The U.S. Department of Labor and the country will be well served by a leader who understands the need to forge partnerships with state and local officials and who values cooperation to bring about successful results for both employers and employees.”
Based on my personal experience and professional assessment of Perez, he has been highly productive, bringing vigor to each of his roles, determined to improve how the office or agency under his authority functions. As Maryland’s secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulations, he retooled the agency to be able to respond to changing times and pursue sensible policies. As the foreclosure crisis loomed and state AGs came together and worked with other state officials to protect the public, Perez shifted staff and agency resources in Maryland to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of criminals who target homeowners in financial dire straits, preying on their fears and selling them sham foreclosure prevention schemes.
Perez has also consistently shown his collaborative approach to problem-solving, such as when, as Maryland’s secretary of labor, he brought together the banking industry, consumer advocates, and the state’s legislators and judges to create common-sense changes to Maryland’s foreclosure laws that struck the balance between giving homeowners more time to propose solutions to prevent or delay foreclosure and maintaining the rights of financial institutions to enforce the terms of their mortgage loans.
As a former Navy JAG officer, I believe one of the most important and overlooked functions of the Civil Rights Division is enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. This law prohibits employers from discriminating against veterans in making hiring, firing and promotion decisions. At a time when so many servicemembers are returning to civilian life from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, removing any obstacle to getting and holding a job is of critical importance to them and their families. I am personally grateful that Perez distinguished himself by bringing forward a record number of USERRA cases.
Human trafficking has been a high priority for state attorneys general and we appreciated Perez’s initiative as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division when he vigorously prosecuted human-trafficking cases, working with law enforcement partners at the local, state and federal levels, as well as with nongovernmental organizations. His leadership and collaborative efforts paid off, as the number of human-trafficking prosecutions went up by 40 percent during the past four years, including a record number of cases last year.
As an executive in the DOJ, Perez always took a personal interest in investigating and understanding all of the facts and arguments on each side of an issue, including making himself available after hours and on weekends to question and seek input and advice. On one particularly important matter related to civil rights in the context of state immigration overhauls, he traveled to Utah to meet with Republican state policymakers to seek their input and respond to their questions. It was only after such thorough investigation and analysis that he would take a position based on the law and the facts.
As a former statewide elected official who ran a state agency for 12 years, I’m familiar with the challenges and opportunities that come with the responsibility of such leadership. Looking at Perez’s record, I am thoroughly impressed, not just by his impressive accomplishments but also by the sincerity and honesty of his approach. While I may not agree with every decision he’s made, I know that he always did what he believed would best serve the public. From having worked with Perez, I’m confident he will bring that same approach to the Department of Labor. The Senate would be right to confirm Perez without undue delay.
Mark Shurtleff served as attorney general of Utah from 2001 to 2013 and is currently a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Troutman Sanders LLP.