Dems Pounce on Gorsuch's 'Frozen Trucker' Ruling

Al Franken says his opinion was 'absurd'
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 23, 2017 6:30 AM CDT
Updated Mar 23, 2017 6:41 AM CDT

(Newser) – It is being called the "Frozen Trucker" case, and it has sparked debate amid Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court confirmation hearings. As a federal appeals court judge last year, Gorsuch dissented from a ruling in favor of a trucker fired for abandoning a broken-down trailer in freezing temperatures in Illinois. His dissent in the 2-1 ruling is being targeted by Democrats, who say his opinion shows that he will side with big business over the interests of ordinary Americans like trucker Alphonse Maddin, who testified that he unhooked the trailer and drove to safety because he feared he might freeze to death. A look at coverage:

  • The Guardian reaps the facts of the case: Maddin was low on fuel one night in January 2009 when he pulled over after TransAm Trucking gave him "muddled information" on a refueling location. After the brakes on his trailer froze up, he was told to either "sit tight" and wait for a repair truck, or try to drive on while dragging the disabled 50-foot trailer, which would have been both illegal and unsafe. After three hours in an unheated cab waiting for help, Maddin drove off without the trailer to find warmth. He returned from a nearby gas station after the trailer was repaired and delivered the load, but was fired for abandoning it.
  • Maddin tells the AP that it is "surreal" to find his case at the center of a Supreme Court nomination debate. "It makes me consider what would the consequences be if my case had gone to the Supreme Court level and had been adversely impacted by his ideology," he says.

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  • In his dissent, which can be seen in full here, Gorsuch argued that the trucking company was within its rights to fire Maddin for disobeying orders. He interpreted a federal law banning companies from firing drivers who "refuse to operate" unsafe trucks very narrowly, arguing that it did not apply to Maddin, because he unhooked the trailer and operated the truck.
  • Sen. Al Franken slammed Gorsuch's logic on Tuesday, CNN reports. "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," he said. "I would've done exactly what he did, and I think everybody here would've done exactly what he did."
  • Gorsuch defended the decision when asked about it Tuesday, TPM reports. "The law as written said that he would be protected if he refused to operate and I think by any plain understanding he operated the vehicle," he said. "My job isn't to write the law ... it is to apply the law. And if Congress passes the law saying a trucker in those circumstances gets to choose how to operate his vehicle, I will be the first one in line to enforce it."
  • At Slate, law professor Jed Handelsman Shugerman takes a close look at Gorsuch's opinion and finds that he is not only "dismissive of the actual facts" of the case, his sarcastic tone "demonstrates an arrogant and cold judicial personality" that suggest he might not have the "appropriate judicial temperament for the Supreme Court."
  • Elie Mystal at the Above the Law blog argues that Gorsuch merely gave a "standard conservative-jurist answer" and suggests better lines of attack, including: "Do you think women are people? Because your decisions don’t seem to support their fundamental humanity."
(On Day 1 of his hearings, Gorsuch declined to answer Reddit's horse-duck question.)

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