President Trump is expected 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 work force.
A former top lawyer for the Labor Department in the George W. Bush administration, Mr. Scalia is currently a partner in the Washington office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
His appointment would be controversial because Mr. Scalia was nominated by Mr. Bush in 2001 to serve as solicitor of the department, but was never confirmed by the Senate, which was controlled by Democrats at the time. Many Democrats and unions said he was too closely aligned with employers and hostile to the interests of workers.
Much of the fear about Mr. Scalia’s nomination at the time was based on his opposition to a Clinton administration regulation that would have protected workers from repetitive stress injuries, which became known as the ergonomics rule. Mr. Scalia had weighed in frequently against the rule, deriding the rationale for it as “junk science.”
Mr. Bush eventually used a recess appointment to install Mr. Scalia in the position, effectively bypassing the Senate. He left the department in 2003.
If confirmed, Mr. Scalia will replace Alexander Acosta, who was distrusted by anti-labor conservatives during his two and a half years in the job. He said last week that he would resign amid scrutiny of his handling of a sex crimes case involving the financier and one-time Trump friend Jeffrey Epstein when Mr. Acosta was a federal prosecutor in Florida.
Mr. Acosta’s deputy, Patrick Pizzella, is to serve as acting secretary of labor when Mr. Acosta’s resignation becomes effective on Friday. Mr. Pizzella is viewed as a more natural ally of free-market conservatives than Mr. Acosta was.
The people familiar with the appointment said that several conservatives had suggested Mr. Scalia to the president.
Among them was Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, who waited to suggest it until Mr. Acosta had agreed to step down, according to one person familiar with the discussions. After discussing the idea with several senior Trump officials, Mr. Cotton spoke to the president and then joined a meeting Thursday afternoon during which the president offered Mr. Scalia the job.