Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s choice for replacing the late ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, has been facing a mixed bag of questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings. Predictably, he’s been lobbed softball questions by the Republicans on the committee, while facing probing interrogations from the Democratic side.
Among the most effective of the Democratic Senators cross-examining Gorsuch is Minnesota Senator Al Franken (D-MN), the former Saturday Night Live star who’s managed to make a remarkably smooth transition to politics.
While questioning Gorsuch, Franken turned tragedy into comedy then back into outrage when he asked about one of the nominee’s earlier rulings. Franken called out Gorsuch for his ruling upholding a lower court decision that allowed a company to fire a truck driver for abandoning a broken truck because he was in danger of freezing to death while waiting several hours for his company to send help.
According to Franken:
“It is absurd to say [the company] in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or cause other people to die possible by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity. And I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment.”
Gorsuch tried to weasel out of responsibility for his judgment by replying that the lawyers in the case never presented the court with a claim of an absurdity exception to the “plain meaning rule” that he cited in upholding the decision, but Franken wasn’t having any of it. He couldn’t get beyond the unthinkability of allowing a poor trucker to freeze to death in order to be able to keep their job.
Franken continued questioning Gorsuch, turning to an attempt to elicit his opinion on the way Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court seat Gorsuch is now being considered for, was treated by Republicans who refused to even hold hearings on his nomination.
After citing a litany of political activities on behalf of Republicans that Gorsuch engaged in during the Bush administration, Franken asked why he refused to condemn the Republican treatment of his judicial colleague.
“I have a canon of ethics that precludes me from getting involved in any way shape or form in politics.”
To which Franken countered:
“I don’t think you have to state your political views. This is about how a Supreme Court justice who was nominated by the president of the United States — this is, like, in the Constitution — I think you’re allowed to talk about what happened to the last guy who was nominated in your position.”
Gorsuch continued to evade the question, citing the differing views of each party on the issue as evidence of the political nature of the question.
Franken was clearly frustrated by the answers that he received, but those answers will clearly provide the Democrats with some ammunition as they try to prevent the Supreme Court from being dominated by right-wing ideologues.
Check out the testimony here:
Vinnie Longobardo is a 35-year veteran of the TV, mobile & internet industries, specializing in start-ups and the international media business. His passions are politics, music and art.