Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) engaged Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch in a contentious exchange over one of Gorsuch's dissents on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Franken harshly criticized Gorsuch's dissent against a driver for a Kansas trucking company who was fired for breaking company policy by leaving his trailer with frozen brakes on the side of an interstate and driving his rig to try to get warm.
As Franken explained, TransAm Trucking driver Alphonse Maddin parked his rig on the side of Interstate 88 on a -14 degree night and noticed his trailer's brakes were frozen and his rig heater did not work.
After calling his dispatcher for a repair, he was told to wait, but after several hours in the cold temperatures and fearing hypothermia, he unhitched his trailer and drove off to wait somewhere warm. Maddin was fired for his actions and Gorsuch wrote that the company gave him the legal option to remain with his trailer.
Franken said he understood the reasoning of Gorsuch's dissent, but was "puzzled" by it.
"You can freeze to death," Franken said, "I don't think you'd want to be on the road with him [with frozen brakes], would you, judge?" Franken asked.
"He gets fired. And, the rest of the judges all go 'that's ridiculous'," Franken said, asking Gorsuch what he would have done if he were Maddin.
"I don't know what I would have done. I don't blame him for a moment for doing what he did do. I empathize with him entirely," Gorsuch said.
"I'm asking you a question. Please answer the question. You don't know what you would've done?" Franken asked incredulously. "I think everybody here would have done exactly what he did. That's an easy answer."
Franken noted that the law states an employee cannot be fired for refusing to operate a vehicle in unsafe conditions.
"You decided they had the right to fire him," Franken said. "I'm not a lawyer, but I've been on this committee for about eight years."
Franken called it "absurd" that Gorsuch would believe TransAm had the right to fire Maddin.
"I had a career in identifying absurdity," Franken said, referring to his past role as Stuart Smalley on "Saturday Night Live", "I know it when I see it and it makes me question your judgment."
At the time, Gorsuch wrote in the dissent that his job was not to answer moral questions, but legal ones.