Rep. Jackson Lee Renames Hearing: ‘We Lost the Presidency and Mr. Tom Perez Is at Fault’

By Penny Starr | April 16, 2013 | 4:54 PM EDT

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) praised Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez at a House hearing on April 16, 2013 into mismanagement of his Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. ( Starr)

( – The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing Tuesday focused on controversies examined in a March 12, 2013 Office of Inspector General report on the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division Voting Section – including its leadership under Thomas Perez, Obama’s pick to head the Labor Department.

Rep. Shelia Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said while she was pleased Congress had renewed the Voting Rights Act, the hearing into the Voting Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division was unnecessary and should have a different title.

“I would only offer a caveat and suggest that the hearing should be renamed to ‘We lost the presidency and Mr. Tom Perez is at fault’ in quotes, because I see no reason for this hearing,” she said, adding that another report by the Office of Professional Responsibility had not found fault with DOJ in its investigation – and eventual dismissal – of the New Black Panthers voter intimidation case.

“OPR concluded that Department officials did not commit professional misconduct or exercise poor judgment in connection with the NBPP matter, but rather acted appropriately in the exercise of their supervisory duties,” the March 17, 2011 report stated.

According to the 299-page DOJ’s OIG report, on Sept. 13, 2010, then-Inspector General Glenn Fine informed Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) that his office was investigating the Voting Section beyond the scope of the New Black Panther investigation.

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Assistant Attorney General Perez was also notified about the investigation on Sept. 13, 2010.

On Dec. 3, 2010, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights said in an interim report on the New Black Panthers matter:

“The nature of these charges [concerning the handling of the NBPP matter and allegations of hostility in the Division to enforcing civil rights laws on behalf of White citizens] paints a picture of a Civil Rights Division at war with its core mission of guaranteeing equal protection of the laws for all Americans,” the report states. “During the Bush administration, the press reported ideological conflict within the Division.

“If the testimony before the Commission is true, the current conflicts extend beyond policy differences to encompass allegations of inappropriately selective enforcement of laws, harassment of dissenting employees, and alliances with outside interest groups, at odds with the rule of law,” the report states.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), member of the House Judiciary Committee, criticized the Department of Justice's interference with his state's efforts to pass a law requiring photo ID to vote at a committee hearing on April 16, 2013. ( Starr)

Witnesses at the hearing praised and skewered Perez ahead of his upcoming Senate confirmation hearing to be Labor secretary.

Attorney J. Christian Adams, who worked under Perez, said: “Simply, the Civil Rights Division under the current management has perversely abused the civil rights of Americans, abused the fiscal trust of the taxpayers and abused the rule of law.”

Attorney and law professor Samuel Bagenstos, who also worked under Perez, said that the “last four years have been one of most productive periods in the Civil Rights Division’s illustrious history.”

Jackson Lee, meanwhile, joined other Democrats on the committee in saying the hearing was meant to “malign” Perez.

“I am not understanding why we are here trying to malign a gentleman who worked vigorously to enhance the opportunity for all Americans to vote,” Jackson Lee said, noting Perez’s controversial challenges to states efforts to reform voting laws, including requiring photo identification and purging voter roles of dead people.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) expressed anger at the challenge to his state’s voter ID legislation.

“I’m also sorry to the state of South Carolina that it had to spend $3.5 million to have a district court – ultimately a three-judge panel – ultimately agree with us,” Gowdy said of the successful battle to retain the photo ID voter law in South Carolina. “And I’m sorry for the Department of Justice that they put politics ahead of the law.”