During a sometimes tense bout of questioning from Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), Gorsuch was again asked about what has become known as the Case of the Frozen Trucker.
In this case, Gorsuch ruled against Alphonse Maddin, a driver who claimed he was wrongly fired after ignoring a supervisor’s demands and leaving an unheated truck to seek safety in freezing temperatures.
Gorsuch was the lone dissenter among the judges considering that case. Liberal and conservative legal activists alike point to the Maddin ruling as one they said explained how Gorsuch interprets the law. Here is how The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes characterized the Maddin case:
The facts in Maddin’s case are not in dispute. Hauling a load along Interstate 88 in Illinois for a Kansas-based trucking company, Maddin missed a refueling stop and pulled to the side of the road to decide his next step. In the subzero weather, the brakes on his trailer froze. He radioed for help, and the dispatcher told him to stay put and a repair truck would come.Maddin said he awoke hours later in the unheated truck cab, numb and with his speech slurred. Ignoring orders, he unhooked the truck from the trailer and drove off to look for help. He turned around when the repair truck came.Later he was fired.
While two appeals court judges agreed that Maddin was refusing to operate his truck in a dangerous way, Gorsuch wrote that Maddin’s only legally protected option in that case was staying put.
Durbin sharply questioned Gorsuch about his dissent there. Gorsuch, who had otherwise maintained a calm demeanorbut seemed to tense up during his back-and-forth with Durbin, took a moment to compose his answer before speaking.
“All I can tell you is my job is to apply the law you write,” Gorsuch said.
While he noted that the dissent may have been “a bad decision,” Gorsuch said that he was only abiding by the law, which he again said was the supreme requirement of his job as a judge. “This gets back to what my job is and what it isn’t,” Gorsuch said.
Some Democrats have cited this ruling as an example of Gorsuch siding with powerful interests against everyday Americans. But Gorsuch also said that if the senators wanted “to pick and choose cases out of 2,700” cases he decided, he could point to others where he had sided with plaintiffs or affirmed rulings in favor of workers.
Durbin replied that much as lawmakers are held accountable for their votes, they spend time “picking and choosing” cases to figure out who judges like Gorsuch are.