Labor Secretary Nominee Alexander Acosta Is Trump's First Latino Pick

Alexander Acosta
Alexander Acosta

Alexander Acosta, who has been a federal judge, a prosecutor, and a member of the National Labor Relations Board, is the new nominee for secretary of Labor.

Donald Trump announced Acosta’s nomination at a press conference today. Fast-food executive Andrew Puzder, his original nominee to head the Department of Labor, withdrew Wednesday after a videotape surfaced of his ex-wife alleging physical abuse by him — an account she later recanted, but that and other concerns about Puzder were enough to make his confirmation by the Senate unlikely.

Acosta, currently dean of Florida International University’s law school, “not only boasts stellar conservative credentials but is recognized as a political pragmatist,” the Miami Herald reports. A Florida native and the son of Cuban immigrants, he is Trump’s first Latino Cabinet nominee. He is also chairman of Miami-based U.S. Century Bank, one of the nation’s largest Latino community banks.

“I think he’ll be a tremendous secretary of Labor,” Trump said at the press conference, according to USA Today.

While Acosta is described as conservative, an initial check of his background finds nothing particularly controversial. That was not the case with Puzder; the allegations of spousal abuse were known even before the video came out, and he had made eyebrow-raising statements such as expressing a wish to replace human workers with robots. Puzder, chairman of CKE Restaurants, parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's, also was a critic of business regulations and opposed a significant increase in the minimum wage, and he had employed an undocumented immigrant as a domestic worker. And the fast-food exec, who first made his name as an anti-abortion activist in Missouri, had spoken approvingly of the Carl's Jr. commercials featuring scantily clad women — ads that are widely considered sexist.

Acosta, a graduate of Harvard Law School, clerked for Samuel Alito, one of the Supreme Court’s most conservative members, when Alito was an appeals court judge. Acosta later became an appellate judge himself, serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Immediately before joining Florida International in 2009, he was a U.S. attorney in South Florida, where he obtained some high-profile convictions, including that of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff on fraud and conspiracy charges.

He was the first Hispanic person to be named an assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice, holding that position during George W. Bush’s presidency; Acosta headed the department’s Civil Rights Division. Before that he was a member of the National Labor Relations Board, where he participated in or authored more than 125 opinions. He has been a lawyer with the firm of Kirkland and Ellis and taught law at the George Mason Law School.

Acosta may have an easy time getting Senate confirmation, as he has already been gone through the process successfully three times — for the judgeship, the U.S. attorney position, and the NLRB membership.

But in the confirmation hearings, senators must scrutinize Acosta closely, said Jerame Davis, executive director of Pride at Work, a group for LGBT union members and their allies. “Mr. Acosta’s record shows him to be a true conservative,” Davis told The Advocate via email today. “Since there isn’t much in his public record to indicate his views on LGBTQ issues, it’s critical that he answer questions about where he stands on LGBTQ employment discrimination during his confirmation hearing. The Senate [Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions] committee must do their due diligence in vetting Mr. Acosta thoroughly on all of the issues. We need a Labor secretary who will stand up for all working people. We will continue to review Mr. Acosta’s record.”

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