Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, questioned nominee Stephen Vaden's experience for the job.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, questioned nominee Stephen Vaden's experience for the job. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Largest Federal Labor Union Opposes Trump’s Pick for Top USDA Lawyer

AFGE says Stephen Vaden “has shown contempt” for union contract, while Democratic senators question his experience, defense of controversial voter ID laws.

Federal employee union officials are calling on lawmakers to reject President Trump’s nominee to be the top lawyer at the Agriculture Department over concerns that he will refuse to abide by existing labor agreements.

On Thursday, the American Federation of Government Employees formally announced its opposition to Stephen Vaden, who was nominated in September to be general counsel at the Agriculture Department.

Vaden joined the Agriculture Department as a beachhead official for its Office of General Counsel, and he previously practiced law at D.C. firm Patton Boggs and Jones Day. He came before the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee for a confirmation hearing Thursday.

AFGE Local 1106 President Matt Tilden said when Vaden arrived in January, he promptly terminated the union contract between the office and the 250 employees on staff. Tilden said that “contempt” for labor agreements will lead to poor worker morale and hurt the department’s mission.

"We respectfully seek a collaborative work environment and true partnership with the agency that facilitates stellar service to our client agencies and, most importantly, to the American public," Tilden said in a statement.

Although senators did not broach the issue of the labor agreement at Thursday’s hearing, Democrats questioned whether Vaden had adequate managerial and legal experience to run the general counsel’s office.

“Your legal experience has been primarily in election law, the Federal Election Commission and the Foreign Agents Registration Act,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. “The Office of the General Counsel doesn’t deal with any of these matters. I’m also concerned about your lack of managerial experience . . . You worked at firms for six years. How many employees have you managed?”

“It varied by case,” Vaden said. “In some instances I was the sole attorney, while others involved a dozen or more litigators and attorneys. But it is important to point out that for the last 11 months, and beginning March 17 as principal general counsel—and since the general counsel’s chair was vacant—I’ve had managerial experience over those 203 attorneys and 54 support staff.”

Senators also questioned Vaden for his role in filing amicus briefs on behalf of an organization called the Judicial Education Project to defend controversial voter ID laws in Ohio and North Carolina. The legislation in North Carolina was struck down in court, because it targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”

“You wrote in your brief that ‘North Carolina allows all citizens to vote, although members of minority races may choose, for socioeconomic or other reasons, not to take advantage of that equal opportunity,’” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md. “My question to you is, stepping back and given the full scope of the case and now that you have heard all of the arguments and seen the decision handed down, do you agree with the finding of the U.S. Court of Appeals?”

“Senator, the ruling is the final decision and that is what the law is, and I respect the ruling,” Vaden said. “I have the duty of fidelity to former clients.”