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A Questionable Labor Advocate

THE NATION

January 12, 2002|MEGAN GARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Like his father, conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Eugene Scalia prompts a strong reaction.

In the eyes of labor groups and occupational safety experts, Scalia, 38, is a flat-out "danger" to the safety of U.S. workers. They see a lawyer who has worked for the last decade on behalf of big business, someone who has dismissed ergonomic studies and the rules generated by them as "junk science."

Conservatives, on the other hand, defend Scalia as a skilled attorney whose nomination to the No. 3 slot at the Labor Department was held up by Democrats as payback for his father's part in the Supreme Court's decision that tilted the Florida recount--and the presidential election--toward President Bush.

No one has quarreled with his credentials, just the assignment Bush had for him as the Labor Department's chief lawyer.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who chairs the Health, Education and Labor Committee, called Scalia an "outstanding lawyer" who was ill-suited for the Labor Department post.

In an October vote, the committee forwarded Scalia's nomination to the full Senate by the narrowest of margins, 11 to 10, with former GOP Sen. James M. Jeffords (I-Vt.) lining up with his old party.

"The Solicitor of Labor is the workers' lawyer, responsible for protecting the interest of millions of working men and women," Kennedy said at the time. "Yet Mr. Scalia is well-known for his long-standing opposition to workers' rights and protections."

Responding to such complaints, Senate Democratic leaders made clear they had no plans to schedule a final vote on his nomination.

A graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago Law School--both schools where his father had been a professor--Scalia has worked as an attorney for the last decade. He has been married for eight years and has three children.

At Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, a powerful law firm with offices a short walk from the White House, Scalia almost exclusively has represented major corporations. When he testified on Capitol Hill at the October hearing, he conceded that in his 10-year labor-law career, he has represented only two workers.

Foes of his nomination say articles Scalia wrote on his own time--most notably a commentary that appeared two years ago in the Wall Street Journal--indicated a level of hostility toward workers that went beyond professional concerns.

Scalia asserted in the Wall Street Journal piece that unions were seeking ergonomic regulations as a means of increasing their dues-paying ranks by slowing down productivity with added breaks and forcing companies to hire more employees.

The article infuriated organized labor and union officials say it is statements such as those--not anything to do with his father--that fueled their opposition.

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