He went on to become the United States attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where his office prosecuted the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the terrorism suspect Jose Padilla and founders of the Cali cartel. He achieved the conviction of Charles Taylor Jr., the son of Liberia’s former leader, for torture. His official biography said his office also prosecuted several bank-related cases and targeted health care fraud.
Mr. Acosta’s record and writings will undergo close scrutiny in the weeks before his confirmation hearing. But some of the most outspoken skeptics of the previous labor nominee, the fast-food executive Andrew F. Puzder, have already expressed optimism and open-mindedness about Mr. Acosta.
“I am thrilled that at long last, we have a Hispanic in this cabinet,” said Javier Palomarez, president of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, who was critical of Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign.
Labor groups that assailed Mr. Puzder as being anti-worker applauded the choice of Mr. Acosta.
“Unlike Andy Puzder, Alexander Acosta’s nomination deserves serious consideration,” said Richard L. Trumka, president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. trade union. “In one day, we’ve gone from a fast-food chain C.E.O. who routinely violates labor law to a public servant with experience enforcing it.”
Mr. Puzder withdrew his name from consideration on Wednesday after Republican senators began turning against him. They were concerned about a slew of accusations that had surfaced recently, ranging from Mr. Puzder’s business record to his employment of an undocumented housekeeper to his 1988 divorce.
If confirmed, Mr. Acosta could also help smooth the relationship between Mr. Trump and American Muslims who have accused him of fomenting religious discrimination. Testifying before Congress in 2011 at a hearing about the civil rights of American Muslims, Mr. Acosta made a forceful appeal that they should be viewed as any other American community would. “Now is a good time to remember that no community has a monopoly on any particular type of crime,” he said.
Despite the early praise Mr. Acosta has received, it is far from certain that his confirmation will be easy. Progressive groups, such as the Democratic “super PAC” American Bridge, were busy on Thursday digging through his background and looking for stains on his record. One area of potential concern is a 2008 investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, which looked into whether hiring practices and case assignments at the civil rights division he led were based on political affiliations. A report on the case found that Mr. Acosta had ignored warning signs about such problems.
Another pitfall could be a 2004 letter to a federal judge in Ohio that Mr. Acosta sent while he was at the Justice Department, justifying “vote caging” in the presidential election. The practice, in which private citizens in Ohio challenged the eligibility of African-American voters, was widely seen as a Republican strategy to disenfranchise minorities.
Both issues came up when Mr. Acosta was interviewing to become dean of the University of Florida’s law school in 2014. Michelle Jacobs, a professor at the school, said that she and her colleagues were uncomfortable with how Mr. Acosta explained the vote-caging case. She also said Mr. Acosta had described paying lip service to lawmakers when called to testify before Congress.
“I feel that he lacked some transparency, and he didn’t show a full appreciation for ethical obligations,” Ms. Jacobs said. “We felt it deeply enough that we eliminated him from the list of candidates.”
But colleagues of Mr. Acosta’s at Florida International University said he was widely liked as a leader of the law school, striking a healthy balance of being detail-oriented without micromanaging. A father of two daughters and a lover of science fiction, Mr. Acosta is known within his department for being humble and genial.
“I was actually stunned that Donald Trump would make such a sensible choice,” said José Gabilondo, an F.I.U. law professor who has worked closely with Mr. Acosta. “He’s a very mature person with a sense of decorum, and I think he’ll make a very big contribution to the administration.”
Continue reading the main story