By JIM KUHNHENN and SAM HANANEL
FILE – In this Thursday, May 10, 2012 file photo, United States Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, left, who heads up the civil rights division at the Department of Justice, is joined by Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Roy Austin, as Perez announces a federal civil lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio during a news conference in Phoenix, after months of negotiations failed to yield an agreement to settle allegations that Arpaio’s department racially profiled Latinos in his trademark immigration patrols. Two people familiar with the process say President Barack Obama is close to naming Perez as his choice to head the Department of Labor. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is close to naming Thomas Perez, a civil rights official in the Justice Department, as his choice to head the Department of Labor, two people familiar with the process say.
His nomination could come as early as Monday, the people familiar with the process said Saturday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak prior to the official announcement.
If confirmed, Perez would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January.
White House spokesman Matt Lehrich declined to comment.
Perez, 51, has led the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division since 2009 and previously served as Maryland’s labor secretary. He is expected to have solid support from organized labor as well as the Hispanic community, which is eager to have representation in Obama’s second-term Cabinet.
Solis was the first Hispanic woman to head an agency at the Cabinet level. Perez was the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, where he served from 2002 to 2006.
Perez would come to the Labor Department as Obama pushes a major immigration overhaul, which could include changes in how employers hire guest workers. Labor Department officials have also taken a prominent role in supporting Obama’s effort to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour.
At the Justice Department, Perez played a leading role in the decision to challenge voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina that could restrict minority voting rights. A federal court later struck down the Texas law and delayed implementation of the law in South Carolina until after the 2012 election.
Perez was easily confirmed by the Senate for his Justice Department post, but since then, some GOP lawmakers have criticized his role in persuading the city of St. Paul, Minn., to withdraw a lending discrimination lawsuit from the Supreme Court. In exchange, the Justice Department declined to join two whistle-blower lawsuits against St. Paul that could have returned millions of dollars in damages to the federal government.
The St. Paul case had challenged the use of statistics to prove race discrimination under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and Justice Department officials were concerned the court could strike down the practice.
A letter last year from four Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darrell Issa of California, criticized Perez for a “quid pro quo arrangement” that potentially cost taxpayers more than $180 million.