Alexander Acosta is Donald Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. secretary of labor, the president announced in a press conference today.
This comes after Trump’s original pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, withdrew his name from consideration. According to Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, the other finalists for the position were Catherine Templeton, former secretary of Labor, Licensing and Regulation for South Carolina; Joseph Guzman, a professor at Michigan State University; and Peter Kirsanow, a private attorney and a member of the United States Commission on Civil Rights.
Here’s what you need to know about Alexander Acosta.
1. He Is a Former Member of the National Labor Relations Board
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Alexander Acosta clerked for Judge Samuel Alito on the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit for a year before going to work at the Washington, D.C. office of the Chicago law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
Acosta then served as a member of the National Labor Relations Board from December 17th, 2002 through August 21st, 2003. Acosta was appointed to that position by President George W. Bush.
According to Acosta’s biography on the Florida International University website, he authored over 125 opinions while serving on the board.
Read more about R. Alexander Acosta in Spanish at AhoraMismo.com:
2. He Served as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, Where He Defended the Rights of American Muslims
Following his stint on the National Labor Relations Board, Acosta was appointed to the role of assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division. He was the first Hispanic to serve as an assistant attorney general for the U.S. government. This was another position that he was appointed to by President George W. Bush.
Acosta resigned as assistant attorney general in June 2005.
“As Assistant Attorney General, Alex has done an outstanding job enforcing our Nation’s civil rights laws and promoting equal opportunity for all Americans,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a statement at the time of Acosta’s resignation. “I am grateful for his enthusiasm and dedication to the Justice Department. I wish Alex all the best as he continues to serve our Nation as an Interim United States Attorney.”
In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”
Acosta spoke about a variety of cases he has dealt with involving the civil rights of Muslims, including one instance where he instructed the Justice Department to intervene when a young girl was asked to take off her hijab in school and suspended when she refused. He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.
“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve,” he said. “History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘[t]hose who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.”
Acosta was criticized for some of his actions as assistant attorney general, though, including his involvement in a 2004 Ohio voting rights case. At the time, two separate lawsuits challenged an Ohio procedure allowing individuals to challenge a voter’s eligibility at a polling place, according to the Los Angeles Times. Acosta said in a letter to a U.S. district court judge that “nothing in the Voting Rights Act facially condemns challenge statutes.”
“It is totally unusual, it is unprecedented for the Justice Department to offer its opinions on the merits of a case like that,” Al Gerhardstein, a lawyer representing two civil rights activists, said at the time. “This is the civil rights division saying it is OK for voters to be ambushed when they reach for a ballot. That’s how the letter reads to me.”
3. He Served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida
Acosta’s most high profile role to date was his position as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
One case Acosta oversaw during his time in this position involved Ali Shaygan, a doctor who was accused of illegally prescribing painkillers. Shaygan was acquitted, but what was notable about this case was that it was discovered during the proceedings that three prosecutors and a Drug Enforcement Administration official had secretly recorded conversations with Shaygan’s attorney, David O. Markus. At the time, Acosta said that he was taking steps to ensure this did not happen again.
“I’ve called each of our new employees into my office on the day they are hired, and told them their job is to do justice,” Acosta told Fox News. “Their job is not to win at all costs.”
Acosta, the U.S. attorney’s office and the trial attorneys were reprimanded by Miami Federal Judge Alan Gold. Gold also ordered the attorney’s office to pay Shaygan $600,000 in legal fees, although an appeals court later reversed these sanctions and said that Gold had violated the prosecutors’ due process rights by issuing that public reprimand, according to the Miami Herald. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Acosta also oversaw the case against UBS, a Switzerland bank which was accused of helping Americans evade taxes. The bank paid a $780 million settlement and agreed to hand over the names of some of their clients, according to The Washington Post.
And in 2008, he agreed not to file federal charges against Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire convicted of soliciting underage girls for prostitution, if he plead guild to state charges, according to Politico. Epstein ended up getting an 18-month county jail sentence, and he only served 13 of those months.
Some other noteworthy cases that took place during his tenure were that of the Liberty City Seven, a cult whose members were charged with terrorism; Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist at the center of the 2005 Indian lobbying scandal; Chuckie Taylor, son of the former president of Liberia who was convicted of carrying out human rights violations including torture; and Miguel and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, founders of a drug cartel that had been importing billions of dollars of cocaine into Florida.
4. He Is Currently the Dean of Florida International University College of Law
Acosta resigned as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida in 2009 to become the second dean of Florida International University College of Law.
“I am honored by the opportunity to take the reins of such a young and promising law school,” Acosta said in a statement at the time of his hiring. “I love this community and I am honored to now be part of the FIU family. With its world-class faculty and its outstanding students, the FIU College of Law will become one of the most respected institutions in the country. Together, we can make that happen.”
The Florida International University College of Law is relatively young, with the first class graduating in 2005.
Acosta was reportedly considered to be the president of the University of Florida Law School, but according to Stephen Bainbridge, a UCLA law professor, he was rejected possibly because law professors had negative reactions to his roles in the 2004 Ohio voting rights case and the prescription drug case in which an attorney’s conversations were secretly recorded.
5. If Confirmed, He Would Be the First Hispanic Member of Trump’s Cabinet
If Alexander Acosta is confirmed, he will be the first Hispanic member of Donald Trump’s cabinet.
In total, four of President Trump’s cabinet nominees are not white: Ben Carson, Nikki Haley, Elaine Chao, and now Alexander Acosta.
Asked about the relative lack of diversity in the president’s cabinet, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in January, “…I think it is a very narrow way to look at it to say: ‘If you don’t appoint people to this particular position that’s a problem. The No. 1 thing that I think Americans should focus on is, ‘Is he hiring the best and the brightest? Is he hiring people that are committed to enacting real change?'”
Acosta serves on the Commission for Hispanic Rights and Responsibilities. He was also named one of the 50 most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine.