It was below freezing temperatures one January evening in 2009 in Illinois when a man named Alphonse Maddin, driving a truck attached to a trailer for TransAm Trucking, found himself stranded shortly before midnight.
It turned out his truck was fine, but the trailer’s brake stopped working, and thus couldn’t be towed along. Upon returning to his truck, the heat also wasn’t functioning.
Maddin notified TransAm, which told him to wait for help. He did. Hours passed, and Maddin fell asleep. When he awoke, he felt numbness in his torso and feet. He called TransAM again, which told him to keep waiting, or to drag the trailer on its frozen brakes.
Not long after, Maddin, fearing for his life, unhitched the trailer and took off. Assistance eventually arrived and the trailer was recovered.
Maddin was fired for disobeying orders.
He later sued the company, under a statute by the Department of Labor that says employees do not have to operate their vehicle if they have reasonable apprehension about a serious injury.
TransAm contended that Maddin was not protected by this statute because he did, in fact, operate his vehicle.
An independent arbiter ruled in Maddin’s favor that the dismissal was illegal. Appeals ensued, and an appellate court of three judges backed the arbiter’s decision, ruling 2-1 in favor of Maddin.
The one man who ruled in favor of TransAm?
Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Now I’m not telling you this story to make you mad, or to confirm anyone’s worst fear about this judge who has been previously hailed for his conservative rulings.
In fact, I was out sick from work today, and watched a significant chunk of Gorsuch’s hearing before the Senate. From what I saw, I don’t think anybody could have watched the proceedings and thought that he is anything but an extremely intelligent man.
He clearly takes his job as an interpreter of the law very seriously, and was very disciplined in his responses to not indicate that he would have any premeditated ideological leanings.
So if he was conning us, then he sure fooled me.
Some of the highlights included his statement that “No man is above the law,” when asked about potential presidential overreach; and when asked how he would have responded if Trump asked him to reverse Roe vs. Wade (which legalized abortion nationally), he said “I would have walked out the door.”
But the reason I shared that story in the beginning is because it is clear that Gorsuch interprets rules and the law literally, regardless of morality. And that is a good or bad thing, depending on how you choose to perceive it.
In his minority opinion, Gorsuch agreed that since Maddin did indeed operate his vehicle, he lost protection under the Department of Labor statute, because that is exactly how it is worded.
Gorsuch will almost certainly be confirmed. And people can take heart in knowing that he is a competent judge who understands that the law exists to hold everybody in this country accountable, no matter how powerful or influential they are.
But his tenure as a justice of our nation’s highest court will always be questioned, because of the circumstances in which he eventually obtained the seat, and because of the character of the man who selected him.
Never forget Merrick Garland. (Odds say we all forget by June).
And if you’re thinking that there’s no way I watched an entire day of of Supreme Court hearings and was not once tempted to run out to Taco Bell to get a Taco Supreme… then you’d be 100 percent right.