By Paul Notice
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch underwent the second day of his confirmation hearing for his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Among many concerns, Democrats zeroed in on Gorsuch's pro-corporate stances, and how Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the man Gorsuchi's hoping to replace, often decidede on behalf of the interests of corporations over the employees' rights in split decisions.
Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dianne Feinstein listed the following cases as examples where deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia ruled on behalf of corporate interest, and against the rights of the worker:
- Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire - Limited the ability of women to seek equal pay.
- Gross v. FBL Financial Services - Made it more difficult to prove age discrimination.
- University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar - Took away the right for workers to sue under Title VII for employer retaliation, once they accuse them of discrimination.
The main focus of Democrats during yesterday's hearing was independence from corporate interests. In light of this, Senator Feinstein asked:
"How do we have confidence in you that you won't just be for the big corporations?"
"Ute 5 and 6. Fletcher. The Rocky Flats case, which vindicated the rights of people who had been subject to pollution from large companies in Colorado — uranium pollution. I’d point you to the Magnesium case, similar pollution case in the Salt Lake City area. Colorado’s effort with renewable energy; upheld that. Orr v City of Albuquerque, involving pregnancy discrimination in a police department in Albuquerque. WD Sports, a discrimination claim. Casey, Energy West, Crane, Simpson v CU, involving young women who had been harassed by the football team. AM, Browder, Sutton — I can give you a long, long list."
But Feinstein was referring to the "Frozen Trucker" Case.
Back in January 2009, Alfonse Maddin, a trucker for TransAm Trucking Inc. called into his dispatcher to report that the cold had frozen his trailer's brakes solid. It left him stranded on the side of an Illinois state highway at 14 degrees below zero temperatures - and the truck's heat wasn't working.
TransAm's dispatcher ordered him to stay with the truck and the trailer, and Maddin did - expecting help to arrive within an hour. However, after three hours and repeated calls, he reported numbness in his feet and torso, along with shortness of breath and a burning sensation over his skin. He unhinged the trailer with the frozen brakes, and called in to inform the dispatcher that he was going to take the truck to search for help. The dispatcher told him to drag the trailer with him. This is illegal. Instead, Maddin left the trailer to search for help. He was fired. And he sued.
"Seven judges heard my case. Only one of them ruled against me. That judge was Neil Gorsuch."
Gorsuch wrote the following for his reason for 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."
Federal law prohibits the firing of employees for refusing to operate, but Gorsuch's reasoning was that Maddin did operate the truck to drive and look for help - ignoring that the trailer's frozen brakes were not, in fact, ever operational. Moreover, Gorsuch's primary citation of the Plain Meaning Rule as cause to rule against Maddin, is actually not legal.
Senator Al Franken made sure to remind everyone at the confirmation of this, saying:
"But the Plain Meaning rule has an exception. When using the Plain Meaning Rule would create an absurd result, courts should depart from the Plain Meaning. It is absurd to say that this company is in its rights to fire him [Maddin] because he made the choice [against] possibly dying from freezing to death, or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle - that's absurd. Now I've had a career in identifying absurdity. And I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment."
What about Gorsuch's anti-Gay, anti-Abortion and anti-Voting Rights rulings/opinions?
When confronted with his ruling against expanding protection for Trans people under state law, Gorsuch diverted and deflected his answers, offering no real explanation.
Senator Lindsey Graham asked what would he have done, if Trump had asked him to reverse Roe v. Wade, and Gorsuch's response: "Senator, I would've walked out of that room." Whether that answer confirms that Gorsuch would actually rule in favor of decisions that uphold a woman's right to her own body remains unclear. It's simply an implied positioning.
Unfortunately, there was little mention of Gorsuch's opinion articles, interviews and public adoration of anti-voting rights during the senate confirmation.
Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, JSTOR