President Donald Trump wasted little time in naming R. Alexander Acosta on Thursday as his new Labor secretary nominee to replace Andrew Puzder, who withdrew from the nomination on Wednesday.
Acosta, the only son of Cuban immigrants, is law dean at the public Florida International University in Miami as well as a veteran Republican administrator, serving as assistant attorney general for civil rights and U.S. attorney in Miami.
Trump noted in a Thursday afternoon press conference Acosta’s degrees from Harvard College and Harvard Law School as well as his service as a former clerk to Justice Samuel A. Alito of the Supreme Court, adding that he’s had “a tremendous career.”
Acosta, Trump said, “has been through four Senate confirmations. I’ve wished him the best. I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of Labor.”
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He will be Trump’s first Hispanic cabinet nominee.
According to his FIU Law bio, Acosta has served in three presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed positions – as a member of the National Labor Relations Board, appointed by George W. Bush; assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department; and becoming the first Hispanic to become assistant attorney general.
But Acosta’s record isn’t unblemished.
He was chastised in a report made public in January 2009 by the Justice Department’s inspector general and Office of Professional Responsibility for failing to supervise a rogue administrator intent on politicizing the civil rights division by hiring archconservatives from 2003 to 2006, according to the Daily Business Review.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive direstor of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement that she’s “astonished” by Acosta’s nomination. Acosta, she said, “led the Civil Rights Division at a time that was marked by stark politicization, and other improper hiring and personnel decisions that were fully laid to bare in a 2008 report issued by the Office of Inspector General.”
The OIG found that “actions taken during Mr. Acosta’s tenure violated Justice Department policy and federal law. Political and ideological affiliations were used as a litmus test to evaluate job candidates and career attorneys, wreaking havoc on the work of the Division,” Clarke continued. “This egregious conduct played out under Mr. Acosta’s watch and undermined the integrity of the Civil Rights Division. It is hard to believe that Mr. Acosta would now be nominated to lead a federal agency tasked with promoting lawful hiring practices and safe workplaces.”