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Confronted by Freezing Trucker Case, Gorsuch Pushes Back: I'm Not A Legislator

Confronted again with the case of Alphonse Maddin — the TransAm Trucking driver who was fired for leaving a trailer with frozen breaks, against his employers wishes, because he said he was losing feeling in his limbs in the subzero temperatures — Gorsuch insisted that he believed it was the right legal decision to side with the employer in the matter.  

“This is one of those you take home at night. The law said, the man is protected and can’t be fired if he refuses to operate an unsafe vehicle. The facts of the case, at least as I understood them, was that Mr. Maddin chose to operate his vehicle, to drive away, and therefore wasn’t protected by the law,” Gorsuch said halfway through a ten-hour marathon questioning session. 

Gorsuch’s dissent on the case — after his colleagues insisted the law protected him — has come up repeatedly during his confirmation hearing, with Democrats criticizing him for siding with employers over “the little guy,” as one senator put it on Tuesday.

“My job is to apply the law that you write. The law as written said he would be protected if he refused to operate. By any plain understanding, he operated the vehicle,” Gorsuch continued. “I said it was an unkind decision, I said it might have been a wrong decision, a bad decision, but my job isn’t to write the law, senator, it’s to apply the law. If congress passes a law saying the trucker in those circumstances gets to choose how to operate his vehicle, I’ll be the first in line to enforce it. “

What You Missed On Day Three of Gorsuch's Hearing

Catching up on the third day of Gorsuch's confirmation hearing? Here's what you missed:

Gorsuch’s potential future colleagues gave him a headache, by overturning one of his rulings from the 10th Circuit during his hearing to join that very court, and a misspoken word lead to a lot of laughs. We took a look at how many “no” votes SCOTUS nominees have gotten in the last 42 years, and while watching this four-day grueling job interview, we scoped out Justice salaries, too.  

Gorsuch also asked to make a few remarks towards the end of the hearing. Watch it here.

Watch Sasse Call Gorsuch Out -- 'Bigly'

While He Appears Before Senate, SCOTUS Overturns Nominee's Ruling

All eight sitting Supreme Court Justices ruled against a Gorsuch decision in a decision handed down during the third day of the federal judge's confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

The Court overruled Gorsuch's court on a decision he penned, that a public school didn’t have to pay for an autistic child’s private school tuition that had improved his education more than the public school option.

In the unanimous opining, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “when all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing “merely more than de minimis” progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all. For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to “sitting idly . . . awaiting the time when they were old enough to ‘drop out.’”

Pressed on it during his hearing by Sen. Dick Durbin, Gorsuch said he was bound by circuit court precedent in the ruling. While it is true a judge should pay deference to previous court decisions under the legal doctrine of stare decisis, a judge is not bound to follow previous decisions of his court under all circumstances. Faced with a new case and a new set of facts, a judge may choose to depart from precedent.

Gorsuch pushed back when pressed again on it Wednesday afternoon: on this case, he said he was joined by Democrat-appointed judges and he argued the Supreme Court took the case in order to settle it for good, as circuit courts have disagreed on it for years.

'No' Votes on SCOTUS on the Senate floor, 1975-now

In his questioning of Neil Gorsuch this morning, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham again lamented increasing partisanship when it comes to the final votes on Supreme Court nominees. 

Graham observed that famously conservative justice Antonin Scalia was confirmed unanimously in 1986, while noted liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg received only three dissenting votes in 1993. 

Here are the 'no' votes on SCOTUS votes on the Senate floor dating back to 1975. 

So, How Much Money Do Supreme Court Justices Make, Anyway?

Neil Gorsuch is entering his third day of a public job interview, hoping to secure one of the most elite and sought-after titles in American history.

But here’s a question: how much does the job of Supreme Court justice actually pay?

As of this year, an associate justice of the high court pulls down a respectable $251,800. (The Chief Justice gets an extra bump, making an annual $262,300).

That sounds like a nice check, but it’s also dramatically less than a top lawyer in the lucrative market of Washington D.C. could expect to make in private practice. A survey back in 2012 found that the average compensation for a partner at a Washington D.C. law firm was nearly $800,000.

But you shouldn’t exactly start sending care packages to members of the bench, either.

The Center for Public Integrity analyzed the financial disclosures of the sitting justices last year and found that at least six had a net worth of at least $1 million.

The wealthiest one on the list: Stephen Breyer, who is worth at least $6.1 million and as much as $16 million, thanks in part to a chunk of publishing company stock and properties in New Hampshire and the Caribbean.

Most of the justices also reported earning tens of thousands of dollars from speaking and teaching gigs as well as book deals. They’re also well-traveled: all also took at least one major trip sponsored by another organization.

While a seat on the court might win the justices a good living and a storied place in history, though, it doesn’t exactly make its members famous — by popular standards, anyway.

In fact, a new C-SPAN poll found that 57 percent of U.S. voters can’t name a single sitting Supreme Court justice.  

White House Pleased With Hearings So Far

NBC News' Kristen Welker reports that the White House is pleased with how the confirmation hearings are going so far even as Gorsuch is distancing himself from the president on matters like judicial independence.  Watch: 

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Gorsuch Hearing: The Standout Moments From Tuesday's Grilling

  • Trump attacks on the judiciary. Gorsuch gave his first ever public rebuke of Trump’s attacks on the judiciary, saying that he finds anyone criticizing "the honesty, integrity, the motives of a federal judge...disheartening" and "demoralizing"
  • Maternity leave. Gorsuch sought to “clear up” allegations raised by a former student on his views on women manipulating maternity leave
  • Pro-business rulings. The judge was pressed again and again about his dissent on a ruling in favor of a trucker fired for abandoning part of an unsafe vehicle in subzero temperatures when he was without heat. 
  • Abortion rights and dark money. He weighed in, albeit carefully, on Roe v. Wade, while Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse grilled him about dark money in politics.


Gorsuch: Criticizing a Federal Judge Is ‘Disheartening, Demoralizing’

Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee said it was “disheartening” and “demoralizing” for anyone — including Trump — to criticize the integrity of the judiciary.

“When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity or the motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening, I find that demoralizing, because I know the truth,” Gorsuch said when pressed by Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal on Trump’s criticism of a federal judge who ruled against a travel ban he ordered as president and, Gonzalo Curiel, who rejected a motion to dismiss a fraud case against the now-defunct Trump University when he was a presidential candidate.

The remark is Gorsuch’s harshest public rebuke of the president who nominated him to date, and come nine hours into confirmation hearings in which many senators sought to determine just how independent the judge would be from the president.

It’s also the same sentiment (and word choice) Blumenthal told reporters that Gorsuch shared with him in a private conversation last month, in which Gorsuch was responding to Trump's tweets attacking the federal judge who ruled against his first executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations.

At the time, Blumenthal earned his own Twitter attack from Trump, who suggested Blumenthal was lying about the conversation, but Gorsuch's phrasing during Tuesday's hearing indicates that he was indeed accurately representing the conversation. 

Pressed to go further by the Connecticut Democratic senator, Gorsuch declined.

“Senator, I’ve gone as far as I can go, ethically,” he said. “Respectfully, I believe I’ve gone as far as I can go.”

Yep, We're at That Point. Gorsuch Gets the Reddit Horse/Duck Question

Senators are getting a little punchy as Neil Gorsuch's hearing stretches into the evening. 

Republican Sen. Jeff Flake jokingly passed on a notoriously odd query from his teenage son that will be familiar to fans of the web site Reddit — but it clearly flummoxed the nominee. 

Here's the whole exchange: 

Franken: 'What Would You Have Done' as Freezing Trucker?

Minnesota Sen. Al Franken slammed Gorsuch about a case that's come up repeatedly in today's hearing — the freezing truck driver — demanding to know how he'd have responded in the same scenario.

"I had a career in identifiying absurdity and I know it when I see it. I question your judgement," demanded Franken, a former comedian and Saturday Night Live writer, who repeatedly pressed Gorsuch on the issue. "Don't you think it's absurd?"

Watch the contentious exchange here.

Ted Cruz and Neil Gorsuch: Former SCOTUS Clerks, Current Rodeo Fans

In the midst of a hearing where Gorsuch was grilled by Democrats over his position on abortion and past pro-business rulings, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz used his 30 minutes to have a more personal and congenial chat with the nominee. In addition to discussing what it means to be a Constitutional originalist, the two discussed their time clerking for the Supreme Court as well as their shared love of the rodeo.

Here are a few of the lighter questions Cruz asked Gorsuch.

"What is the answer, to the ultimate question, of life, the universe and everything?" (Answer: "42," quoting the exchange from Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.")

"What was it like to be a law clerk for Byron White?" (Former SCOTUS Justice White is Gorsuch's much-talked-about hero, and Gorsuch took the opportunity Cruz offered to reminisce.)

"Were you lucky enough to get him on the basketball court?" (Answer: They played Horse, as White was in his 70s at this point.)

"How's his jump shot?" (Answer: "His eye-hand coordination was just uncanny!")

"I understand you take law clerks, some not from the west, to the Denver rodeo..can you shared your experiences?" (Here, Gorsuch described mutton busting to the Committee: "You take a poor little kid, you find a sheep, and you attach the one to the other and see how long they can hold on.")