WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Labor, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, defended his record on Thursday from Senate Democrats who said his history representing large companies in court should disqualify him from the position.
Trump announced in July that he would tap Gibson Dunn & Crutcher partner Eugene Scalia to lead the Department of Labor and formally sent the nomination to the Senate last week. Scalia previously served as solicitor at the Labor Department under President George W. Bush.
Scalia’s practice at the large Washington, D.C., law firm has focused on employment law and Democrats said the common thread in his work has been that it consistently puts him on the side of corporations in disputes with their employees.
“Instead of nominating someone who understands the challenges working people face and will fight for them, President Trump has chosen a powerful corporate lawyer who has devoted his career to protecting big corporations and CEOs from accountability and attacking workers’ rights, protections and economic security,” Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., said at Scalia’s nomination hearing Thursday. “Instead of nominating a secretary of labor, President Trump has nominated a secretary of corporate interest.”
As an attorney, Scalia represented Walmart as it fought wrongful termination claims from company whistleblowers, worked to defeat a Maryland law that required companies to spend at least 8% of their payroll on employee health insurance plans, and fought an Obama-era Labor Department rule that required advisers for retirement accounts to act in the best interests of their clients.
His record in court has drawn labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, to oppose his nomination, accusing him of prioritizing the interests of companies over their workers.
At his nomination hearing Thursday, Scalia both defended his practice and said he has done more to benefit workers than his critics were acknowledging.
For example, Scalia said a good portion of his practice at Gibson Dunn has been advising companies on their obligations under federal employment laws and helping them craft anti-discrimination policies. He said this work often involved “pushing clients pretty hard to do what the law and sometimes decency indicated they needed to do.”
He similarly touted pro bono work he has done for employees and in particular hailed legal action he took while solicitor at the Department of Labor that forced major chicken farms to pay workers for the time they spent putting on and taking off cumbersome equipment required for the job.
Scalia told senators it was his obligation as an attorney to represent his clients and that his job would be fundamentally different if confirmed.
“I did handle some cases for clients, it was my job at my firm and I had a duty actually to do that vigorously as a lawyer,” he said. “When I was at the Labor Department before, I was ever mindful that I had a new set of responsibilities and even a higher set of responsibilities. The most important thing to me as a practitioner has been fidelity to my obligations and to the law.”