President Donald Trump has decided to name Eugene Scalia as his next secretary of labor, according to two people with direct knowledge of the decision, tapping the son of the former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for a position with vast responsibility over the American workforce.
A former top lawyer for the Labor Department in the George W. Bush administration, Scalia is a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
Scalia was nominated by Bush to serve as solicitor of the department in 2001. But he was never confirmed by the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats at the time.
Democrats and union leaders strongly opposed Scalia’s nomination, in large part because of his opposition to a Clinton administration regulation 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 “junk science.”
Bush eventually used a recess appointment to install Scalia in the position, effectively bypassing the Senate. He left the department in 2003.
If confirmed, Scalia will replace Alexander Acosta, who was distrusted by anti-labor conservatives during his 2 1/2 years in the job. He said last week that he would resign amid scrutiny of his handling of a sex crimes case involving Jeffrey Epstein, a financier and one-time Trump friend, 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 on Friday. Pizzella is viewed as a more natural ally of free-market conservatives than Acosta was.
The people familiar with the appointment said that several conservatives had suggested Scalia to the president.
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 Thursday morning and joined a meeting later in the afternoon during which the president offered Scalia the job.