President Donald Trump said he would name Eugene Scalia as his next secretary of labor, tapping the son of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for a position with vast responsibility over the American workforce.
The appointment is likely to be contested by Democrats and labor unions because Scalia has a long record of representing employers like Walmart and questioning regulations intended to help workers. He was a top lawyer for the Labor Department in the George W. Bush administration and is now a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
In a post on Twitter, Trump said Scalia "has led a life of great success in the legal and labor field and is highly respected."
If confirmed, Scalia will replace Alexander Acosta, who was distrusted by anti-labor conservatives during his 2½ years in the job. He said last week that he would resign amid scrutiny of his handling of a sex crimes case involving financier Jeffrey Epstein when Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Florida.
Acosta's deputy, Patrick Pizzella, is to serve as acting secretary of labor when Acosta's resignation becomes effective today.
Scalia is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group that has advised Trump on judicial nominees. Two people familiar with his appointment said several conservatives had suggested Scalia to the president in recent days.
Among them was Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who waited to suggest it until Acosta had agreed to step down, according to one person familiar with the discussions. After discussing the idea with several senior Trump officials, Cotton spoke to the president and then joined a meeting Thursday afternoon during which the president offered Scalia the job.
Scalia was nominated by Bush in 2001 to serve as solicitor of the department but was never confirmed by the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats at the time. Much of the fear about Scalia's nomination at the time was based on his opposition to a regulation under President Bill Clinton that would have protected workers from repetitive stress injuries, which became known as the ergonomics rule. Scalia had weighed in frequently against the rule, deriding the rationale for it as "unreliable science."
Bush eventually used a recess appointment to install Scalia in the position, effectively bypassing the Senate. Scalia left the department in 2003 and returned to private practice.
Scalia represented a variety of corporate clients at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. In 2006, he helped Walmart triumph in a prominent fight against a Maryland law that would have required companies with more than 10,000 workers to either spend at least 8% of their payroll costs on health care or pay into a state Medicaid fund.
He argued that allowing individual states to establish health care mandates would create chaos and that the federal government should address the issue of rising health care costs.
Scalia also defended Boeing in a politically charged case. A union representing the company's workers in Washington state argued that Boeing had violated labor law by threatening to open another assembly plant in South Carolina unless the union agreed to a no-strike clause in its contract.
The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board under President Barack Obama filed a case against the company, which the union ultimately abandoned when it reached a deal to raise wages and expand its presence in Washington.
But it was through his campaign against the ergonomics rule that Scalia earned his reputation as a union antagonist.
He frequently dismissed the link between repetitive motion and physical ailments suffered by workers, writing in a Cato Institute publication that disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome are "purportedly" caused by typing and asserting that "ergonomists cannot establish in any given case whether an ailment was caused by work or by genetic factors or other activities, such as sports."
A Section on 07/19/2019
Print Headline: Scalia top pick to head Labor, Trump decides