Senate Democrats Highlight Human Side of Neil Gorsuch’s Decisions

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Senate Democrats highlighted people who it says were overlooked or hurt by past decisions from Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch Wednesday.

At a press conference at the Capitol Visitors Center Wednesday morning, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal brought forward three people who were involved in cases heard by Gorsuch as a federal judge.

Alphonse Maddin was fired from his job at TransAm Trucking in 2009 for abandoning his trailer in sub-zero temperatures. “I could not feel my feet, my skin was burning and cracking, my speech was slurred and I was having trouble breathing,” Maddin said. Though his supervisor told him not to leave the trailer, Maddin unhitched it and drove away to seek shelter.

While Maddin won his case against TransAm, Gorsuch dissented, noting that while the law bars employers from firing a worker for “refusing to operate a vehicle,” Maddin in fact drove away. “It might be fair to ask whether TransAm’s decision was a wise or kind one. But it’s not our job to answer questions like that. Our only task is to decide whether the decision was an illegal one,” he wrote.

Maddin argued that the decision showed “a willingness to artfully diminish” the human side of the case.

“The notion that the only judge who issued a dissent relating to the matter … has been nominated to become our nation’s next Supreme Court justice gives me cause for concern,” he said.

Patricia Caplinger sued after a Medtronic medical device called Infuse was implanted in her in a way that was not approved by the FDA. In a 2015 10th Circuit ruling that sided with Medtronic, Gorsuch wrote that the federal regulations she cited “govern only a device’s labeling.”

“I am in constant pain,” Caplinger said.

Katherine Hwang spoke last. Her mother, Grace, was fired from her job as an assistant professor at Kansas State University when she did not return to work after a six-month leave in which she underwent cancer treatment. “Because of the flu epidemic, her doctors advised her not to expose herself due to a compromised immune system,” Hwang said. Gorsuch wrote a 2014 Tenth Circuit ruling against Hwang.

“It’s difficult to conceive how an employee’s absence for six months—an absence in which she could not work from home, part-time, or in any way in any place—could be consistent with discharging the essential functions of most any job in the national economy today,” he wrote. “The Rehabilitation Act seeks to prevent employers from callously denying reasonable accommodations that permit otherwise qualified disabled persons to work—not to turn employers into safety net providers for those who cannot work.”

“When Judge Gorsuch issued his ruling, he didn’t think about this impact this had on our family,” Hwang said Wednesday. “Our only source of income was lost.”

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