Democrats lose top fighter against Trump's judicial nominees

Democratic Sen. Al Franken's ...

Posted: Dec 7, 2017 8:26 PM
Updated: Dec 7, 2017 8:26 PM

Democratic Sen. Al Franken's grilling of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch in the so-dubbed "frozen trucker" case may have been the most replayed moment of the televised Senate Judiciary Committee hearings last March.

It has drawn hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, and Gorsuch, a sitting judge since April, sarcastically recalled the controversy months later as an episode that made it look like "I just hate truckers."

Franken was a key Democratic voice against Trump nominees

He fought with Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch earlier this year

Franken announced his resignation Thursday

Franken's bitter resignation speech on Thursday because of sexual harassment allegations leaves more than an open seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee when Democrats already have few tools to fight Republican President Donald Trump's lifetime-appointments to the federal bench.

A showman by training, former comedian Franken could distill and dramatize the law, put a witness on the defensive, and represent the opposition in a way that captured publicity. In the stuffy world of judicial nominations, Franken served the Democratic cause as no other ordinary Judiciary Committee member could.

He was a relentless inquisitor, combining a flair for the dramatic with down-home folksiness. Critics found him more of a tormentor, and Gorsuch in March bristled at his portrayal of the nominee's views.

More recently, Franken rankled the GOP majority by refusing to endorse a home-state nominee, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, for a US appeals court position. In the past, when a senator withheld a so-called "blue-slip" endorsement, the prerogative was honored. Shortly after the first public allegation was made against Franken last month, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, spurned Franken's objection and said he would proceed with a hearing on Stras. Trump has said Stras would be a short-lister for any Supreme Court opening.

The Republican majority already held a powerful hand to push through Trump's judicial nominees. Four years ago, the Senate, then controlled by Democrats, changed longstanding filibuster rules so that judicial nominees could be put to a vote with a simple majority; prior practice had required a supermajority of 60 votes to cut off debate. With current their 52-48 majority, Republicans are able to approve Trump's nominees on their own schedule along party lines.

Democrats object to Grassley's move on judicial nominee blue slips

Case of the frozen trucker

Franken appeared to relish his Judiciary Committee platform. Perhaps his most memorable public remarks came over Gorsuch's most sensationalized case from tenure on the Denver-based US Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.

It involved a trucker, Alphonse Maddin, whose trailer had broken down in subzero temperatures. The brakes had frozen, and after becoming numb in the cold, Maddin unhitched the rig and left briefly to get warm. His employer, TransAm Trucking, fired him for leaving the trailer.

As Maddin protested the dismissal, a US appeals court majority sided with the trucker and his assertion that he was covered by federal worker-safety law. Gorsuch dissented, saying the relevant statute forbade Maddin from leaving behind the rig.

When Gorsuch appeared before the Judiciary Committee in March as Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Franken was ready. After laying out the case with cinematic detail (the sub-zero cold, the driver's likely hypothermia, the supervisor's order to just wait), Franken mocked Gorsuch's dissenting view. He pressed Gorsuch on what he would have done. The nominee resisted answering in any personal vein.

"What would you have done?" Franken persisted. "I'm asking you a question. Please answer."

"Senator, I don't know," Gorsuch said. "I wasn't in the man's shoes."

Franken deemed it "absurd" that a judge would declare a company rightfully fired a trucker for trying to ensure the safety of himself and others on the road.

"Now I had a career in identifying absurdity," the former "Saturday Night Live" performer said. "And I know it when I see it. And it makes me question your judgment."

In April, Gorsuch won Senate confirmation, with a vote along partisan lines, and he apparently had the last word at an annual dinner of the Federalist Society in November.

Describing his limited judicial role in the interpretation of federal law, Gorsuch, according to news reports, referred to three principles: "One, the law is telling me to do something really, really stupid. Two, the law is constitutional and I have no choice but to do that really stupid thing the law requires. And three, when it's done, everyone who's not a lawyer is going to think I just hate truckers."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 91935

Reported Deaths: 2780
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds6903153
DeSoto532153
Harrison368771
Jackson334367
Madison318086
Rankin313473
Lee254066
Jones236078
Forrest231069
Washington215671
Lafayette203039
Lauderdale1984123
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Oktibbeha173749
Lamar156633
Neshoba1524103
Panola140926
Sunflower138543
Lowndes138457
Warren136650
Leflore134380
Pontotoc120416
Pike120148
Monroe117665
Scott115925
Copiah115433
Coahoma110927
Holmes108458
Marshall106714
Grenada104535
Lincoln104453
Yazoo103429
Simpson100142
Union96524
Tate94537
Leake93535
Adams89135
Wayne87121
Pearl River84850
Marion83633
Covington79321
Prentiss78617
Alcorn75310
Newton74722
Itawamba74121
George73913
Tallahatchie73418
Winston71919
Tishomingo65035
Attala63625
Chickasaw63524
Tippah63516
Walthall58925
Clay56216
Hancock55420
Noxubee54015
Jasper53615
Clarke52538
Smith51714
Calhoun50612
Tunica47213
Montgomery45020
Claiborne44916
Lawrence42212
Yalobusha41314
Perry39016
Humphreys36915
Quitman3625
Stone34611
Greene33516
Webster32813
Jefferson Davis32211
Carroll30812
Amite30710
Wilkinson30117
Kemper28515
Sharkey25812
Jefferson2359
Benton2151
Franklin1863
Choctaw1775
Issaquena1033
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 128818

Reported Deaths: 2284
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson18648332
Mobile12949288
Montgomery8560170
Madison736573
Tuscaloosa7015112
Lee558259
Shelby550149
Baldwin502148
Marshall376342
Etowah326344
Calhoun321139
Morgan312925
Houston260621
Elmore247547
DeKalb230119
St. Clair218134
Walker217780
Talladega199925
Limestone191919
Cullman180017
Franklin172728
Dallas172526
Russell16912
Autauga162424
Lauderdale159231
Colbert157224
Escambia154324
Blount150413
Jackson146610
Chilton143325
Dale128042
Covington127027
Coffee12388
Pike11329
Tallapoosa112483
Chambers110642
Clarke104417
Marion91428
Butler90238
Barbour8097
Marengo69319
Winston68512
Lowndes64327
Pickens62214
Bibb6179
Hale60828
Bullock58514
Randolph58512
Lawrence57620
Monroe5708
Washington54513
Geneva5404
Perry5356
Wilcox52911
Cherokee52816
Clay5187
Conecuh51611
Crenshaw51531
Macon46619
Henry4524
Sumter41719
Fayette4128
Choctaw34212
Lamar3302
Cleburne3116
Greene29915
Coosa1573
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