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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: 13260

Reported Deaths: 625
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds89324
Lauderdale67855
Madison65421
Scott58910
Neshoba51231
Forrest48034
Jones46713
DeSoto4616
Leake38410
Holmes36523
Rankin3496
Jackson29613
Copiah2784
Attala27014
Lincoln24320
Monroe24224
Leflore24025
Harrison2346
Newton2243
Lamar2194
Yazoo2152
Pearl River20327
Pike19611
Adams18615
Lowndes1607
Noxubee1586
Washington1535
Warren1506
Bolivar14010
Jasper1393
Oktibbeha13410
Smith13110
Covington1271
Chickasaw12612
Clarke12616
Kemper12510
Lafayette1233
Carroll11310
Wayne1090
Marion1088
Lee1045
Clay993
Winston981
Coahoma983
Lawrence901
Hancock8711
Simpson850
Itawamba857
Yalobusha824
Wilkinson829
Montgomery781
Sunflower773
Grenada752
Jefferson Davis712
Union715
Tippah7011
Marshall693
Panola622
Calhoun604
Tate591
Claiborne581
Humphreys537
Amite521
Walthall510
Tunica483
Perry462
Jefferson400
Prentiss383
Stone300
Choctaw292
Webster271
Pontotoc263
Franklin252
Tishomingo250
Quitman240
Tallahatchie241
George191
Alcorn151
Benton140
Greene71
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 14478

Reported Deaths: 551
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile1996109
Jefferson161488
Montgomery118630
Marshall6499
Tuscaloosa50512
Lee49832
Franklin4476
Shelby43319
Tallapoosa39662
Butler34411
Chambers33623
Madison2964
Baldwin2749
Elmore2637
Etowah23610
DeKalb2213
Coffee2001
Walker1981
Dallas1973
Sumter1916
Lowndes18610
Houston1644
Morgan1621
Autauga1593
Calhoun1413
Choctaw1414
Pike1360
Colbert1362
Marengo1336
Hale1293
Russell1280
Lauderdale1282
Randolph1257
Wilcox1187
Marion11310
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Barbour1101
Clarke1022
St. Clair1021
Pickens934
Talladega912
Greene894
Chilton871
Dale830
Cullman760
Limestone740
Jackson692
Covington651
Washington645
Winston620
Macon602
Bibb591
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Henry562
Blount491
Escambia433
Lawrence420
Coosa331
Geneva330
Cherokee332
Perry310
Monroe282
Clay272
Conecuh251
Lamar200
Cleburne131
Fayette110
Unassigned00
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