WASHINGTON — When Eugene Scalia was a fourth-year English major at the University of Virginia in 1985, he penned an article for the student paper about gay rights.
In it, he referred to a lesbian couple that had visited the university, “the proud parents of a daughter fathered by a homosexual acquaintance.”
He went on, “Now I do not suggest that we all conform to a particular lifestyle, but this arrangement, for one, is in conflict with the fundamental organization of our society: I do not think that we should treat it as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family life.”
He concluded: “I am not sure how I stand on the basic issue of gay rights.”
Scalia, who is now President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Labor, was grilled on the article Thursday during his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate.
“My worry is that your views have not necessarily matured as the country’s have,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told him.
Scalia stressed that he was in college when the article was written, and that he “wouldn’t write those words today.” That’s in part, he said, because “I now have friends and colleagues to whom they would cause pain and I would not want to do that.”
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) pressed Scalia further on the article, asking Scalia whether he now believes that LGBTQ Americans are entitled to equal protections under the law.
“That is what the Supreme Court ordained,” Scalia responded, but Kaine pressed him for his personal views. Scalia then said he does personally believe that LGBTQ Americans are entitled to equal protections under the law.
The nominee also said he believes it’s wrong for an employer to terminate someone based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Scalia — the son of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — has worked as a corporate lawyer and also served as the Labor Department’s top attorney during the George W. Bush administration.
Democrats on the committee slammed his previous work for big corporations, questioning whether he was an appropriate nominee to carry out the Labor Department’s mission.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said he’s “skeptical” of the nomination based on Scalia’s record.
The top Democrat on the Senate committee charged with vetting Scalia, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, said he would be better suited to be a “secretary of corporate interests.” She said Scalia’s career has shown “hostility to the very workers he would be charged with protecting.”
Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin told Scalia,“Your history and record on worker safety is of concern to me and is not what I’d be looking for in our next secretary of labor.”
She pointed specifically to his previous work defending UPS against claims brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act and his representation of Sea World after a killer whale attacked and killed a trainer.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) — chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee — said he was concerned that Scalia was being unfairly criticized for his work as a corporate lawyer.
“Everyone is entitled to a fair hearing and very effective advocacy,” Alexander said.
“I am not necessarily my clients,” Scalia told senators. “I will seek to defend them, to vindicate their rights, but that doesn’t mean that I necessarily think that what they did was proper.”
Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) pressed Scalia on a Labor Department program that compensates former government employees or contractors suffering from illnesses developed as a result of exposure to radiation at nuclear weapons test sites.
Scalia said he was aware of the program during his first stint at the Labor Department, and recalled it as a program that had “some problems” during that time.
Rosen said she’s heard from home health care workers in Nevada that changes implemented by the Trump administration have made it harder for former energy workers to get their claims processed, and she asked Scalia to commit to working to streamline the claims.
Scalia said that he wasn’t familiar with the particular problem she was discussing, but added that he’s interested in studying it and working with Rosen on the issue.
If confirmed, Scalia would replace former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who resigned earlier this year amid controversy over his role in securing a plea deal for the late Florida financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.