An Uncomfortably Familiar Problem for a Trump Nominee

Reports in BuzzFeed and Politico suggest Judge Neil Gorsuch copied passages that appear in his book from another article, and may not have exercised care in attributing other material.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Federal judge Neil Gorsuch allegedly copied text and language from several sources without proper attribution in two of his written works, throwing an 11th-hour curveball into the Senate confirmation process for President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

BuzzFeed first published excerpts of Gorsuch’s 2006 book on euthanasia Tuesday night that showed strong similarities between his writing and a 1984 Indiana Law Review article by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma. The book was an expanded version of the judge’s 2004 dissertation for his doctorate in philosophy at Oxford University. Even in the dense, formulaic world of legal writing, the similarities are striking.

“Down’s syndrome is a chromosomal disorder that involves both a certain amount of physical deformity and some degree of mental retardation,” Gorsuch wrote in one notable example. “Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula means that the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus.”

“Down's syndrome or ‘Mongolism’ is an incurable chromosomal disorder that involves a certain amount of physical deformity and an unpredictable degree of mental retardation,” Kuzma wrote in her article two decades earlier. “Esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula indicates that the esophageal passage from the mouth to the stomach ends in a pouch, with an abnormal connection between the trachea and the esophagus such that substances taken orally pass to the lungs instead of the stomach, eventually resulting in suffocation unless surgery is performed to correct the malformation.”

In a footnote, Gorsuch quotes the same sources as Kuzma. Politico also subsequently reported similarities between a 2000 academic article Gorsuch wrote on assisted suicide and a 1985 Duquesne Law Review article on euthanasia in the 13 colonies. According to Politico, Gorsuch’s descriptions of laws in multiple states “aligns closely” with the description in the article two decades earlier, citing not the article itself but the same sources it cited in turn.

Gorsuch’s book and other scholarly works received little public attention outside legal and academic circles until February, when Trump nominated him to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year. They also became a central feature of his confirmation hearings last month: Republican senators extolled his writings as evidence of his qualifications for the Court while Democrats questioned him about his views on abortion based on a passage denouncing the “private taking” of human life.

Trump administration officials leapt to Gorsuch’s defense Tuesday night, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer linking on Twitter to an article describing the reports as “another desperate eleventh-hour smear.” Rebutting plagiarism allegations is a familiar experience for the Trump camp: First Lady Melania Trump borrowed passages from speeches by her predecessor Michelle Obama in her keynote at the Republican National Convention last July, and Fox News analyst Monica Crowley declined a job offer in Trump’s National Security Council in January after CNN found multiple instances of plagiarism in her 2000 doctoral dissertation.

It’s unlikely the allegations against Gorsuch, however, will be enough to slow or halt confirmation when the Senate votes later this week. Democratic senators have vowed to filibuster the 49-year-old federal appellate judge’s confirmation, while their Republican counterparts have indicated they’ll use the “nuclear option” to remove the 60-vote threshold to end debate on Supreme Court nominees and bypass Democratic resistance.