When Judge Neil Gorsuch accepted his nomination to the Supreme Court, he professed modesty about his role on the Court, if he is confirmed. He proclaimed that it is the role of judges to “apply not alter the work of the people’s representatives.” But, unfortunately, Judge Gorsuch’s record casts serious doubt on whether he would truly respect the role of Congress when it comes to drafting legislation that protects the well-being of the American people. A recent involving a truck driver who was fired for leaving his load to take refuge after waiting two and a half hours without heat on a sub-freezing night illustrates how Judge Gorsuch’s approach to the law would endanger workers and the public.
For 150 years, Congress has drafted remedial legislation with the understanding that the courts would liberally construe the provisions of the laws to accomplish their ends. Here’s what Representative Samuel Shellabarger, the author and manager of the 1871 Civil Rights Act regarding that Act: “This act is remedial, and in aid of the preservation of human liberty and human rights. All statutes and constitutional provisions authorizing such statutes are liberally and beneficially construed. It would be most strange, and in civilized law, monstrous were this not the rule of interpretation. As has been again and again decided by your own Supreme Court of the United States … the largest latitude consistent with the words employed is uniformly given in construing such statutes….”
Nor was that just the wishful thinking of a legislator. Even in 1930, during the height of what we refer to as the Lochner era, a acknowledged that the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a law designed to protect injured workers, was “to be construed liberally to fulfill the purposes for which it was enacted.” Thus, the Court held that even though the statute only imposed liability on railroads for injuries that resulted from the “negligence” of the railroad’s agents or employees, it was proper to impose liability where a foreman assaulted a worker. The Court explained that since the employer would clearly be liable if the worker’s injuries “had been caused by mere inadvertence or carelessness on the part of the offending foreman it would be unreasonable and in conflict with the purpose of Congress to hold that the assault, a much graver breach of duty, was not negligence within the meaning of the Act.”