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Obama poised to pick Justice official for Labor

WASHINGTON – President Obama is poised to select Justice Department official Thomas Perez to be the next labor secretary, according to two people familiar with the deliberation process.

Perez’ nomination to the Labor Department could come as early as Monday, the people familiar with the process said Saturday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the official announcement has not yet been made. 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 and the Hispanic community, which is eager to have Hispanic representation in Obama’s cabinet.

Perez was the first Latino elected to the Montgomery County Council in Maryland, where he served from 2002 to 2006. If confirmed, he would replace Hilda Solis, who resigned in January to return to her native California.

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 has played a leading role in the agency’s 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 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.

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