Democrats ripped Eugene Scalia, President Trump‘s nominee to lead the Labor Department, over his views on LGBTQ rights at a hearing on Thursday, arguing his past writings made them question how he could fairly administer the law for that community.
Scalia, the son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said his views had evolved over time and that he would faithfully execute the law, but that did not appear to move Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.
“My worry is that your views have not necessarily matured as the country’s have,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told Scalia after referencing a 1985 article the nominee wrote that said he didn’t think being gay should be treated as equally acceptable or desirable as the traditional family life.
Scalia responded that he had written the article 35 years ago as a college student, and that he “certainly” had changed in a number of ways since then.
“I think we’ve all matured … since those days and I would certainly enforce the law in this area and respect the decisions of the Supreme Court,” he said.
After Murphy asked him again how his views had changed, Scalia said, “I would not write those words today. In part because I now have friends and colleagues to whom — that they would cause pain. I would not want to do that.”
Under questioning from Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Scalia said he believed that LGBTQ Americans were entitled to equal protection under the law and that it would be wrong for an employer to terminate someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“I do believe it’s wrong,” he said in response to a direct question from Kaine.
Democrats are unlikely to be able to block Scalia’s confirmation. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and it does not appear that any GOP members are opposed to Scalia.
HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) opened the hearing by stating that Scalia is “altogether well qualified for this job.”
In her opening statement, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), the panel’s top Democrat, called Scalia an “elite corporate lawyer who has spent his career fighting for corporations and against workers.”
And Democrats repeatedly returned to the theme of how Scalia would treat the LGBTQ community.
Murphy noted that Scalia recently joined the board of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank that Murphy said advocates against the civil rights of LGBT people.
Scalia called the center “a respected organization,” noting it has been praised by former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). He added that his participation on the board “says nothing about what my views might be on a number of different issues.”
Kaine also questioned Scalia on disability rights, an issue where his views have also received scrutiny. Scalia successfully defended UPS in a class-action suit in 2009 when employees who were injured on the job argued the company violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The workers said the company didn’t provide accommodations that would allow those injured on the job to return to work.
Kaine asked Scalia about a 1938 law that allows employers to pay wages less than the federal minimum wage to disabled workers.
“That, as you say, is a long-standing provision. If Congress were to change it, obviously the Labor Department would change its approach accordingly,” Scalia said.
The committee is expected to vote on Scalia’s nomination on Tuesday. It’s unclear whether Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), two presidential candidates who sit on the panel, will be present. Both were absent on Thursday.
Scalia would replace former Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who resigned amid questions over a plea deal he brokered more than a decade ago as a U.S. attorney for the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
Scalia, 55, is a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and is a member and former co-chairman of its labor and employment practice group. He also co-chairs the firm’s administrative law and regulatory practice group.
He also served as solicitor of the Labor Department from 2002 to 2003 after his appointment by former President George W. Bush.
He was introduced at the Thursday hearing by former Labor Department Secretary and current Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.