On Thursday, President Donald Trump showed no hesitation in nominating Alexander Acosta, his first Hispanic nominee, as Labor Secretary, just one day after the highly criticized Andrew Puzder withdrew.
Acosta, 48, started his career as a clerk for Samuel Alito, eventually serving as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida — a jurisdiction packed with retirees who may have given him an unusually thorough education in the limits of legal financial services practice.
This, in turn, may give Trump a way to fill out his cabinet, but also raises questions about the speed with which Labor Department regulations around retirement account advice will roll back.
Trump praised his nominee’s “tremendous” career, highlighting Acosta’s Harvard degrees and service as clerk to Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito.
However, more immediate challenges first need to be resolved over Acosta’s record, which other commentators note “isn’t unblemished.” Labor groups who led the anti-Puzder charge were quick to lambaste the “scandal-plagued Bush-era lawyer” for wrecking the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Public reports from the DOJ as well as the Office of Professional Responsibility did indeed show signs of Acosta’s hiring processes being too politically influenced.
Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said she was “astonished” Acosta was nominated, citing improper hiring practices made by Acosta while in the Civil Rights Division, as reported in 2008 by the OIG. The OIG found that Acosta “violated Justice Department policy and federal law”, as politics and ideology were used as the deciding factors in the hiring process.
Clarke emphasized the damaged integrity and workplace environment of the Division at the time, expressing concern about his potential leadership in a “federal agency tasked with promoting lawful hiring practices and safe workplaces”, the article notes.
On the other hand, Acosta’s fairly traditional career in conservative politics could make him a safe choice.
Tom Clark, counsel of The Wagner Law Group, and Steve Saxon from the Groom Law Group both agreed on the advantages of such a traditional nominee, the article says.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka responded to the Puzder replacement with approval, saying that the transition from “a fast-food CEO who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it” is a positive one, indeed.
Tammy McCutcheon, who previously worked as administrator of the Wage and Hour Division of the Labor Department in the Bush administration, expects Acosta to be “quietly efficient,” with little difference in his policy positions from Puzder.
If he is confirmed, Acosta will be one of only three minorities working in Trump’s Cabinet. The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao are the other two.