Justice Department's Tom Perez Tapped For Labor Secretary

President Obama announced his choice to be Labor secretary on Monday. It's Tom Perez, a Justice Department civil rights leader — bringing a high-profile Latino to the Cabinet.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with a new labor secretary.

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MONTAGNE: President Obama has chosen justice department lawyer Thomas Perez for the post. Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He ran the labor department in his home state of Maryland and he will add a high profile Latino voice to the cabinet. But, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, his nomination is not without controversy.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Tom Perez has been the civil rights chief at the justice department since October, 2009. And for the last three years he's been one of the most aggressive assistant attorneys general in decades. Perez settled three major lending discrimination cases with big banks. He's challenged new voting laws in Texas and South Carolina. And he's brought record numbers of hate crime prosecutions and police misconduct cases. Here's Perez talking to NPR last year.

THOMAS PEREZ: It's about expanding opportunity - whether it's the opportunity to vote, the opportunity to realize the American dream of home ownership, the opportunity to get a fair education. We're in the opportunity business and I think we've been able to expand opportunity.

JOHNSON: All that activity has drawn the ire of some congressional Republicans. Just last week, an Inspector General Report criticized his civil rights unit as deeply fractured and politically polarized - a place where lawyers and staff members from different political outlooks mistreated and bullied others. Most of that bad behavior took place before Perez arrived and he says he's done a lot to change the culture. But that didn't stop House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, from announcing he would hold a hearing on the issue. Another GOP member of Congress called the unit, quote, "a rat's nest." All those issues are likely to surface during Perez's confirmation hearing to be secretary of labor. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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