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Trump Picks Kate O’Scannlain as DOL’s Top Lawyer

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A Kirkland & Ellis employment litigation partner in Washington and daughter of a federal appeals court judge is on tap to be the Labor Department’s chief in-house lawyer.

Kate O’Scannlain, a Kirkland attorney for 12 years who focuses on labor and employment issues, would oversee 500 lawyers as the Labor Department solicitor, the No. 3 position at the agency. O’Scannlain, a Kirkland partner since 2011, has represented insurance companies and defended companies against class actions.

The White House on Thursday night announced its intent to nominate O’Scannlain, whose father is Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Kate O’Scannlain, a member of the conservative lawyers group The Federalist Society, was reportedly among the candidates who were being considered this year for a slot on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

O’Scannlain wasn’t reached for comment Friday about her nomination to the Labor Department. A hearing date in the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee has not been set.

At the Labor Department, O’Scannlain would find herself a central player in the Trump administration’s entanglement over immigration, promotion of the American workforce and effort to reduce what White House officials call the “regulatory burden” imposed on small businesses and manufacturers by the last administration. The solicitor serves as “the legal enforcement and support arm” of the agency.

The Labor Department, moving to stall the implementation of Obama-era rules to minimize conflicts of interest in the retirement-savings industry, must still grapple with several pending court cases that challenged the regulations. The department has moved to revise the previous administration’s push to expand overtime eligibility to millions of more workers. The agency in June rescinded Obama’s standard for the determination of when companies are considered “joint employers” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“A number of regulatory initiatives have been sent to OMB or published over the last couple months, and I expect you’ll see more in the near future,” Nicholas Geale, the acting solicitor, told Bloomberg BNA in August.

O’Scannlain is a 2005 graduate of Notre Dame Law School. In June, she and other law school alumni urged the U.S. Senate to confirm Notre Dame law professor Amy Barrett to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Barrett’s religious beliefs drew criticism from Senate Democrats, who in turn were questioned about whether they’d gone too far in their questioning of the nominee.

The Obama administration’s Labor Department solicitor, M. Patricia Smith, in March joined the National Employment Law Project. Smith, before being named solicitor, had spent years in New York at state agencies enforcing fair-wage laws. The Obama White House once called Smith “one of the nation’s foremost labor commissioners.”

O’Scannlain is married to Matt Johnson, former chief counsel to Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. Johnson is now a principal at Podesta Group.

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