Eugene Scalia, President Bush’s nominee as the Labor Department’s top lawyer, defended his opposition to workplace safety regulations at a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday, October 2.
If approved for the position as labor solicitor, Scalia would be charged with enforcing nearly 200 labor laws. He would provide legal advice and guidance on virtually every initiative of the department in areas such as safety and health, minimum wage and pension security. He would be regarded as a top lieutenant to Secretary Elaine Chao.
Democrats on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee appeared to be solidly against Scalia, who has criticized ergonomics and Clinton-era regulations as “quackery’ and “junk science.’
“Many of us have serious concerns about Mr. Scalia’s nomination to this important position based on our review of his record and his writings — which clearly suggest that his views are outside the mainstream on many issues of vital importance to the nation’s workers and their families,’ said Chairman Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.
The labor laws “are to be taken seriously, and if confirmed I pledge to enforce them vigorously,’ Scalia said. “For a lawyer to shade or slant his legal advice to advance a private agenda is among the gravest betrayals of his solemn duty as an attorney.”
Scalia was pressed by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., to admit he has represented just two workers in his 10-year labor law career, which has focused mostly on corporate clients. Edwards said he questioned whether Scalia has the “necessary empathy for workers in order to adequately and properly represent them.’
Scalia said he thinks ergonomics-related injuries do exist. He said his criticism was aimed at the specific regulation issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which he thought went too far, and said scientific evidence supporting it did not satisfy a legal “junk science’ test established by the Supreme Court.
Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the ranking Republican, defended Scalia, saying it made no sense to disqualify him based on his opposition to a regulation killed by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate.
“His views do not differ greatly and are certainly not out of the mainstream of the United States Congress,’ Gregg said.
Chairman Kennedy (D-Mass.) disagrees saying Scalia’s “views are outside the mainstream on many issues of vital importance to the nation’s workers and their families.”
The vote that probably will determine if Democrats can block Scalia’s nomination from the Senate floor is that of Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., who was not at the hearing. His spokesman, Erik Smulson, said Jeffords “has indicated to me he will support the nomination.’ A committee vote is expected Oct. 10.
Labor Secretary Chao has postponed issuing a statement on the future of ergonomics regulations.