— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) March 21, 2017
The second day of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation took a comical turn when Sen. Lindsey Graham expressed relief that Donald Trump hadn’t chosen a TV judge. Hours later, the subject matter turned grim when Sen. Al Franken confronted Gorsuch over a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals case, in which he’d ruled in favor of a corporation and against an individual who faced an unfathomable dilemma. In the above clip (there’s more videos with tons of context below), Franken unloads on Gorsuch for applying the “plain meaning” rule to statutory language while considering the fate of a man forced to choose between dying and endangering the safety of others.
A furious Franken played up his SNL past while summarizing Gorsuch’s decision: “I had a career in identifying absurdity. And this is absurd.”
The so-called “frozen trucker” case, TransAm Trucking v. Dept. of Labor, hails from 2016. A truck driver named Alphonse Maddin missed a refueling stop and nearly ran out of gas on an icy Illinois road. TransAm told him they were en route but never showed up, and Maddin’s brakes froze while he was lingering on the verge of hypothermia. When he called the company, they instructed him to choose between “drag[ging] the trailer with its frozen brakes, or stay where he was.” He continued waiting for hours before finally removing the trailer and seeking safety and fuel. TransAm later fired him for leaving the trailer against orders. The 10th Circuit ruled in favor of Maddin, except for Gorsuch, who wrote this in his dissent:
“[S]omeone [the TransAm company] gave him two options. He could drag the trailer carrying the company’s goods to its destination (an illegal and maybe sarcastically offered option). Or he could sit and wait for help to arrive (a legal if unpleasant option). The trucker chose None of the Above.”
Gorsuch also sided against the driver’s claims that TransAm had violated the Surface Transportation Assistance Act, which should have prevented TransAm from firing anyone who “refuses to operate a vehicle because [in part] the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public.” Long story short, Gorsuch’s “plain meaning” interpretation of “refuses to operate” led him to decide that this was not why Maddin was fired, so he should not be protected by the law. And so, Gorsuch found no wrongdoing by TransAm in firing Maddin. Crazy, right?
As Franken put it, Gorsuch’s actions in this case “make me question your judgment.” Indeed, Democrats are worried that this case makes Gorsuch’s attitude towards “the little guy” (versus corporations) look terrible.
In this clip, Franken demands to know how Gorsuch would have dealt with the trucker’s dilemma. All Gorsuch can do is weakly stammer in response.
Here’s the full nine-minute exchange between Franken and Gorsuch. Furious Franken is swiftly becoming a thing, and Dems could harness this energy.