Al Franken Grills Visibly Nervous Gorsuch Over ‘Frozen Trucker’ Case

“I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment.”

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s journey to fill Antonin Scalia's seat on the Supreme Court took an unpleasant turn Tuesday when he was grilled by Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota over his dissent on the “frozen trucker case.”

Franken called the ruling "absurd" and said it made him question Gorsuch's judgment.

Gorsuch was the only judge on the 10th Circuit to issue a dissent in the case involves Alphonse Maddin, a TransAm truck driver who claims he was wrongfully fired from his job.

In January 2009 amid freezing temperatures, the brakes of Maddin's truck failed while he was transporting cargo through Illinois. He immediately got in touch with his company and waited several hours for a repair truck to arrive. While waiting for the repair truck he grew numb and his speech became slurred.

When he called again to check the status of the repair truck, a dispatcher warned him not to leave the freezing truck. As a result of the freezing temperatures, he was now having trouble speaking. He unhooked the truck and called the dispatcher again.

But this time he was given two options: either to drag the trailer with the frozen brakes with him or continue to wait in the freezing cab until help arrived. Both of these options looked next to impossible to the freezing driver. He ignored the orders, unhitched his truck from the trailer and drove away, leaving the trailer unattended. As a result of running for his life, the unfortunate driver was terminated for abandoning the trailer.

However, under the U.S. Department of Labor, a truck driver can't be fired for refusing to operate his vehicle because of safety concerns.

On the contrary, Gorsuch ignored the rule of the department and wrote in his dissent, “A trucker was stranded on the side of the road, late at night, in cold weather, and his trailer brakes were stuck. He called his company for help and someone there 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, deciding instead to unhook the trailer and drive his truck to a gas station. In response, his employer, TransAm, fired him for disobeying orders and abandoning its trailer and goods.”

During his confirmation hearing, Franken brought the case of the trucker forward and shut down Gorsuch’s dissent. He even went ahead and questioned him on what he would have done in Maddin's place.

“It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die, possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle. That's absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment,” said the senator.

Gorsuch was grilled by other senators as well.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Dick Durbin of Illinois also repeatedly questioned him on his ruling.

"It was 14 degrees below. So cold, but not as cold as your dissent, Judge Gorsuch," said Durbin.

Gorsuch replied in his defense, "All I can tell you is my job is to apply the law you write."


Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Jonathan Ernst

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