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Labor Nominee Knocks Work-Safety Rules

From Associated Press

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.

“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,” said Scalia, a Washington labor lawyer and son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

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.”

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The vote that probably will determine if Democrats can block Scalia’s nomination from the Senate floor is that of Sen. James M. 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 next Wednesday.

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 such areas as safety and health, minimum wage and pension security. He would be a top lieutenant to Secretary Elaine Chao.

The labor laws “are to be taken seriously, and if confirmed I pledge to enforce them vigorously,” Scalia said.

Scalia was pressed by Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) to admit that he has represented just two workers in his 10-year labor-law career, which has focused mostly on corporate clients.

Scalia said he thinks ergonomics-related injuries 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.

Clinton-era ergonomics regulations were repealed by Congress in March.


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