The Senate has just voted to confirm Thomas Perez, Obama's embattled nominee to head the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, by a vote of 72-22. Perez' confirmation likely comes as a relief to civil rights groups that had been frustrated by the more than six month delay of his nomination. Republican opposition to Perez was based on the dismissal of the infamous New Black Panther Party case, which Perez was not involved with, and his association with a local immigrant rights group in Maryland, as well what voting rights advocates have called GOP partisan opposition to the traditional mission of the Civil Rights Divison.
Prior to the cloture vote, Senator Jeff Sessions, (whose record on voting rights and race is highly suspect) without irony, complained that “Over the past several months, news reports have raised concerns that decision making at the department and the Civil Rights Division in particular have been based on politics, and not on protecting civil rights." In referencing "the past several months," Sessions seemed unaware that the former head of the Civil Rights Division, Bradley Schlozman, had been reprimanded in an Inspector General's report for violating civil service laws in considering political affiliation while hiring attorneys at the Department of Justice, then lying to Congress about it.
Sessions then went on to cite Hans von Spakovsky, whose appointment to the Federal Election Commission had been blocked because of his career as a "vote suppression guru." Sessions seemed unaware of von Spakovsky's history as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Justice Department, referring to him as "this individual, this commentator." Sessions cited von Spakovsky's complaint that a lawsuit against Missouri for failing to purge its voter rolls--a process that voting rights groups describe as so haphazard that it disenfranchises millions of voters--was dropped by the Obama administration's Justice Department.
Perhaps most embarrassing for Sessions however, is the fact that the lawsuit he cited was part of the U.S. Attorneys scandal. U.S. Attorney Todd Graves was fired for refusing to pursue what he saw as a politically motivated case, at which point he was replaced by...Bradley Schlozman.
In other words, in expressing his concern that Perez would not be "capable of putting aside partisan belief, and therefore suited to head the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice", Sessions managed to dredge up the worst partisan abuses that occurred in the Justice Department during the Bush years without even realizing it, inadvertently making the case for Perez' confirmation.
UPDATE: Voting no: Bennett [UT], Barasso, Brownback, Bunning, Chambliss, Cochran, Coburn,
Crapo, DeMint, Ensign, Enzi, Inhofe, Isakson, McCain, McConnell, Risch,
Roberts, Sessions, Shelby, Thune, Vitter, Wicker.
Lindsey Graham and Orrin Hatch originally voted no, but I'm told they changed their votes to yes while the vote was still open.
Photo via civil rights flickr stream.
-- A. Serwer