Dissent Disqualifies Gorsuch

Neil Gorsuch

Supporters of Judge Neil Gorsuch, nominee for U.S. Supreme Court justice, cite attributes for his rulings: strict adherence to the law’s text and excellence in writing.

A dissent Gorsuch wrote as one of three judges on a U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals panel shows the opposite. He ignored the law’s clear wording and belittled a truck driver who had been ordered to follow hazardous instructions.

Gorsuch’s judgment was convoluted and aristocratic. It demonstrated that he lacks the qualities to serve on the Appeal Court appropriately, never mind the Supreme Court.

On Jan. 14, 2009, Alphonse Maddin drove a tractor-trailer through an icy Illinois night on Interstate 88. Directions from employer TransAm Trucking to a truck stop proved wrong. The truck ran down to a few drops of fuel.

At 11 p.m., Maddin pulled over to study a map. When he prepared to leave 10 minutes later, he could not. A temperature of minus 14 degrees had frozen the trailer’s brakes. The wheels would not turn.

DANGER

Maddin called TransAm. The company said it would send a mechanic. The truck’s heater was broken. Maddin fell asleep. A phone call from a cousin at 1:18 a.m. awakened him. The cousin said Maddin slurred his words and was confused. Maddin said he could not feel his feet and his torso was numb.

Maddin reported these symptoms of hypothermia to TransAm. The dispatcher told him to “hang in there.”

Maddin waited. After 30 minutes, he called his supervisor. He said the cold was causing medical problems. He planned to drive the tractor to find help.

The supervisor gave Maddin two choices:

  • Stay put.
  • Drag the trailer along I-88 with the wheels locked.

Maddin decided to drive the tractor to get aid. The mechanic arrived 15 minutes later. A warmed Maddin returned.

The next week, TransAm fired Maddin for leaving the trailer.

Maddin appealed. An administrative law judge and a U.S. Department of Transportation administrative review board each heard Maddin’s case. Both said he was fired in violation of whistleblower provisions. They ordered reinstatement and back pay.

TransAm went to the Appeal Court. The court panel agreed with Maddin 2-1, with Gorsuch dissenting.

TEXT

Title 49 of the U.S. Code of Laws, Section 31105 “Employee Protections,” says: “A person may not discharge an employee, or discipline or discriminate against an employee regarding pay, terms, or privileges of employment, because ... the employee refuses to operate a vehicle because ... the employee has a reasonable apprehension of serious injury to the employee or the public because of the vehicle’s hazardous safety or security condition.”

Gorsuch wrote that, once Maddin raised safety concerns, TransAm: “permitted him to sit and remain where he was and wait for help. The trucker was fired only after he declined the statutorily protected option (refuse to operate) and chose instead to operate his vehicle in a manner he thought wise but his employer did not. And there’s simply no law anyone has pointed us to giving employees the right to operate their vehicles in ways their employers forbid.”

The judge was oblivious to the serious-injury provision in describing as an “option” the order to sit in an unheated truck with hypothermia symptoms. He was reckless in his disregard for the law’s prohibition against punishment for a hazardous-safety condition such as locked-and-skidding trailer tires.

Gorsuch compounded his legal blindness with a burst of snobbery: “Maybe the department would like such a law, maybe someday Congress will adorn our federal statute books with such a law.”

The Senate must reject Neil Gorsuch. His inability to understand a straightforward law and his eagerness to rain scorn upon those who do understand it disqualify him

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