Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch kept his cool for the most part during today’s one-part-contentious-one-part-treacly confirmation hearing. Mostly the TV news cameras following the hearing lapped up his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington routine, complete with lengthy explanation to bemused Washingtonians about the fine art of “mutton busting” and the annual stock show parade that makes its way up Denver’s 17th Avenue each year.
But Gorsuch seemed to drop the Jimmy Stewart shtick and go more Edward Arnold when grilled by Democratic Sen. Al Franken about the Case of the Frozen Trucker. As an appeals court judge, Gorsuch famously ruled against a truck driver who claimed he’d been wrongly fired by his employer. The trucker claimed that, after waiting a couple hours in 14-below temperatures, in his truck with frozen brakes, while his company sent help, he began suffering from hypothermia. Ignoring his supervisor’s demand to continue waiting, he unhitched his unheated truck from its malfunctioning trailer, and drove away to find warmth.
“He gets fired, and rest of the judges all go, ‘That’s ridiculous, you can’t fire a guy for doing that,’ ” Franken said to Gorsuch. Noting that the driver had two options under the company’s directive: possibly freezing to death or driving a dangerous rig, “Which would you have done?” Franken asked Gorsuch.
“Senator, I don’t know what I would have done,” Gorsuch responded, after hesitating, saying he empathized with the driver.
“Everyone here would have done exactly what he did – and I think that’s an easy answer,” Franken shot back impatiently.
“It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him. … I had a career in identifying absurdity,” the Saturday Night Live alum said. “And I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment.”