MetLife Ruling the Latest Win for a Son of Justice Scalia

A federal judge’s decision to revoke MetLife Inc.’s “too big to fail” designation is the latest in a string of wins for the insurer’s lawyer, Eugene Scalia, who has emerged as a go-to advocate in recent years for companies looking to challenge government regulation.

Mr. Scalia, the 52-year-old son of late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has taken an ax to the Dodd-Frank Act since its 2010 implementation. His challenges, on behalf of industry groups and corporations in the financial-services industry, generally rely on a separate 1990s-era federal law requiring financial regulators to do a cost-benefit analysis of new rules.

Mr. Scalia has successfully argued in several suits that parts of the Dodd-Frank law fail to meet that burden, securing wins against the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

In 2012, a court sided with Mr. Scalia’s trade-group client in overturning limits on commodity-markets trading. In another win, an appellate court halted an SEC rule that would have given shareholders more say in replacing corporate directors.

In one loss, a federal appellate court in 2013 ruled against the Investment Company Institute and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, represented by Mr. Scalia, in an attempt to block a regulation requiring mutual funds and others that invest in certain commodities to register with the CFTC.

While declining to comment on MetLife specifically, Mr. Scalia said Wednesday that “Dodd-Frank is an important statute, but often when the government believes it’s handling a particularly important issue, there can be a tendency to overreach.”

Mr. Scalia said he’s drawn to legal cases concerning administrative agencies because a win can “literally change the law.” He added that his interest in it also “undoubtedly comes from the fact it was an area my father taught when he was a law professor, and an area of great interest to him as a judge and justice.”

Mr. Scalia could soon be poised to insert himself into another controversy. Legal challenges are expected to follow a forthcoming rule from the Labor Department holding retirement investment advisers to stricter standards. While Mr. Scalia wouldn’t say Wednesday whether he’ll back such a case, he has advised brokerage firm Primerica Inc. in earlier challenges to the proposed rules.

Last year, Mr. Scalia testified at a congressional hearing over the role in the U.S. of the Financial Stability Board, an international body that monitors the global financial system.

Such an organization has its place, Mr. Scalia said, “but concerns arise if U.S. legal rights and processes take a back seat to decisions that were forged in private meetings with regulators overseas.” He questioned whether the international group, which designated MetLife and other U.S. companies as “global systemically important insurers” were “a silent force” behind MetLife receiving the comparable designation in the U.S.

Mr. Scalia, a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in Washington, D.C., also has a successful record as a lawyer on labor and employment matters. He spent a year as the top lawyer for the U.S. Labor Department under President George W. Bush and has since defended companies against wage-and-hour, discrimination and labor suits.

Mr. Scalia has defended Boeing Co. in a challenge by the National Labor Relations Board over the aerospace company’s decision to move a factory to a nonunion state, and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. in a case against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration following the death of a trainer by a killer whale.

In the 1990s, he helped overturn a Labor Department compliance program on workplace safety standards, arguing that ergonomics rules aimed at curbing repetitive-motion injuries were based on “thoroughly unreliable science.”

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