- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

Eugene Scalia yesterday stood by his past criticism of proposed ergonomics rules but said he would follow the law if confirmed by the Senate as the Labor Department's top lawyer.

"Any views that I hold on ergonomics pale beside my strong conviction in the rule of law and in the duty of employers, government officials and all the public to uphold and obey the law," Mr. Scalia told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Democrats sharply questioned Mr. Scalia's writings on the Clinton-era workplace regulations to prevent repetitive-motion injuries.

Mr. Scalia wrote in a 1999 Wall Street Journal opinion piece that the rules flunked the courts' "junk science test." Mr. Scalia and Republicans defended the phrase as a technical term.

"I was reporting what other judges were saying," Mr. Scalia said.

Ranking Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire called the questioning "ironic" because Congress defeated the enormous and wide-ranging proposal last year.

"It is unprecedented for us to oppose a nominee who is eminently qualified for this position simply because he opposed a 608-page document that does not exist because it was opposed by Congress," said Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican.

Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, was the only committee member to publicly state his opposition and plans to vote no. Other committee Democrats said they were either undecided or leaning against Mr. Scalia's nomination.

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, committee chairman and Massachusetts Democrat, said he has not spoken to Democrats individually to gauge support, but Labor Department officials said they believe there are enough yes votes to move the nomination out of committee.

A Democratic leadership aide said there has been no movement to block Mr. Scalia's nomination and a committee vote is expected early next week.

Observers say the nomination of Mr. Scalia, son of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, is a political test of the recent bipartisan effort since the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on America.

In light of the recent attack, the nomination should go forward without partisan bickering, said Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican.

"To jeopardize Gene's nomination over ergonomics would be to wallow in a level of partisanship which the country simply will not tolerate at this time," Mr. Bond said.

Justice Scalia did not attend the committee hearing, but his wife and the younger Scalia's siblings and family filled the first two rows.

Mr. Kennedy said Mr. Scalia is qualified for many positions in the Bush administration, but questioned whether the solicitor position at labor is a good fit.

"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 suggests that his views are outside the mainstream on many issues of vital importance to the nation's workers and their families," Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Gregg called Mr. Scalia a "public servant at heart" and said he is "uniquely qualified" for the position. He defended Mr. Scalia's critique of the workplace rules as "not outside the mainstream."

"He is quite consistent with the votes taken by Congress," Mr. Gregg said.

Mr. Kennedy asked whether Mr. Scalia would support union members and called into question remarks that organized labor is only interested in increasing membership to gain more dues money.

"I have a great deal of respect for unions; I feel they do a great deal of good for their members," Mr. Scalia responded.

Mr. Scalia is a labor lawyer for the law firm of Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, and has served as a special assistant to U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr.

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