Neil Gorsuch is a plagiarist.

Neil Gorsuch, plagiarist.

I was alerted to this via a Storify that Kevin Gannon posted this morning. Here’s the original Politico article–you be the judge, but I agree with Kevin that it’s “theft and erasure, full stop.”

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch copied the structure and language used by several authors and failed to cite source material in his book and an academic article, according to documents provided to POLITICO.

The documents show that several passages from the tenth chapter of his 2006 book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” read nearly verbatim to a 1984 article in the Indiana Law Journal. In several other instances in that book and an academic article published in 2000, Gorsuch borrowed from the ideas, quotes and structures of scholarly and legal works without citing them.

The findings come as Republicans are on the brink of changing Senate rules to confirm Gorsuch over the vehement objections of Democrats. The documents could raise questions about the rigor of Gorsuch’s scholarship, which Republicans have portrayed during the confirmation process as unimpeachable.

.       .       .       .       .

However, six experts on academic integrity contacted independently by POLITICO differed in their assessment of what Gorsuch did, ranging from calling it a clear impropriety to mere sloppiness.

“Each of the individual incidents constitutes a violation of academic ethics. I’ve never seen a college plagiarism code that this would not be in violation of,” said Rebecca Moore Howard, a Syracuse University professor who has written extensively on the issue.

Elizabeth Berenguer, an associate professor of law at Campbell Law School, said that under legal or academic standards Gorsuch’s similarities to the Indiana Law Journal would be investigated “as a potential violation of our plagiarism policy. It’s similar enough to the original work.”

“I would apply an academic writing standard,” said Berenguer, who teaches plagiarism and legal writing. “Even if it were a legal opinion, it would be plagiarism under either.”

Wait–what’s this about “under legal or academic standards?”  

The White House provided statements from more than a half-dozen scholars who have worked with Gorsuch or helped oversee the dissertation he wrote at Oxford University that was later turned into his book. They included John Finnis, professor emeritus at Oxford; John Keown of Georgetown University, one of the outside supervisors for Gorsuch’s dissertation; and Robert George of Princeton University, the general editor for Gorsuch’s book publisher.

The experts offered by the White House asserted that the criteria for citing work in dissertations on legal philosophy is different than for other types of academia or journalism: While Gorsuch may have borrowed language or facts from others without attribution, they said, he did not misappropriate ideas or arguments.

“Judge Gorsuch did not attempt to steal other people’s intellectual property or pass off ideas or arguments taken from other writers as his own,” said George. “In no case did he seek credit for insights or analysis that had been purloined. In short, not only is there no fire, there isn’t even any smoke.”

But if you look at the evidence, Gorsuch appears to have stolen other people’s intellectual property.  As Gannon explains, he stole their research and passed off their work in primary sources as his own, and then failed to cite their original work that alerted him to the existence of the sources.

WTF with the distinction between “language or facts” versus “ideas or arguments?”  Maybe I’m just mired in a definition from “academia or journalism,” but I’m dubious that there is such a thing as “legal philosophy” that doesn’t require the citation of sources for “language or facts” as well as “ideas [and] arguments.”  In fact, it seems like the non-White House proferred experts consulted by Politico agree that ripping off “language or facts” is the same as “ideas and arguments,” because the cure is exactly the same:  cite your evidence, which is exactly what Gorsuch fails to do:

In the most striking example, Gorsuch, in his book, appears to duplicate sentences from an Indiana Law Journal article written by Abigail Lawlis Kuzma without attributing her. Instead, he uses the same sources that Kuzma used: A 1982 Indiana court ruling that was later sealed, a well-known pediatrics textbook, “Rudolph’s Pediatrics,” and a 1983 article in the Bloomington Sunday Herald.

How many times have we all found students who Googled up an article or a book, cited a bunch of eclectic primary and secondary sources, and then failed to cite their original source?  Countless times, I am sure!  And you don’t even need the Google–your Spidey Senses alert you, and you pretty much know what you’ll find when you go online.  This is only slightly more sophisticated than cutting and pasting directly from someone else’s work, but then we’d expect someone with degrees from Columbia and Oxford Universities to be more than capable of this even sneakier ripoff of other people’s work.

Check out the Politico article–it’s got a wonderful graphic, helpfully highlighted with matching colors to note the exact or strikingly similar language to Kuzma’s article, now 33 years old.  If Gorsuch had been the slightest bit generous or careful, he would have cited Kuzma, and none of us ever would have heard of this book chapter or of her original article, because duh, it’s a 33-year old journal article!  Whatevs!  But I guess this is what Gorsuch thinks of other people, especially women:  they’re there to serve his needs, as the PR campaign continues to roll out more photos of him hiking, skiing, and rafting down the Colorado River.

(As a Coloradoan--for now, anyway–I’m starting to wonder if this is a peculiarly local disease of Republican male politicos in the state.  Perhaps some of you will remember the plagiarism scandal of 2010 that brought down the leading Republican candidate for governor, Scott McInnis.  That was a great lesson for my students early in the current decade, and you better bet that I’ll be discussing this story in both of my classes when we meet again tomorrow.)

I feel really bad for Kuzma.  Not only did Gorsuch clearly rip her off, she can’t (or won’t) complain about it.  She’s a Republican, and I’m sure she hates being in the position of embarrassing the Federalist Society’s Test Tube Candidate!

Kuzma, a one-time aide to former Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.), did not respond to an inquiry from POLITICO, but released a statement through Gorsuch’s team. Kuzma said she does “not see an issue here, even though the language is similar.”

“These passages are factual, not analytical in nature,” Kuzma, now a deputy attorney general in Indiana, said. “It would have been awkward and difficult for Judge Gorsuch to have used different language.”

Finally, let’s pretend that Politico ran an article just like this one accusing Sonya Sotomayor or Elena Kagan of plagiarism.  What do you think would have been the result?

Like I’ve said all along:  those Trumpstains are going to be a bitch to remove.  The Human Stain is spreading, spreading, polluting everyone it touches.

36 thoughts on “Neil Gorsuch is a plagiarist.

  1. It’s funny that the same people who rail at academics for being “easy on students” turn around and go easy on adult professionals who should embody the highest standards.


    • Only when it’s in their political interests, Janice!

      I have to think that Joe Biden is pissed about the 30-year old plagiarism accusations against him all over again. And that was just in a speech, not in something that represented itself as “scholarship!”


  2. You are 100% right!

    I’m recommending that people start posting to rightwing news sites, so that their echo chamber — claiming this is Leftwing fabrication and Fake News — gets countered.

    The weak rebuttals by the White House, the major person plagiarized, and even an NYU citation authority are embarrassing.

    In my own experience, if someone has plagiarized once, it’s very likely they have done it multiple times. In this case, we already know Gorsuch has done this twice.

    People should start scouring his other writings. I am sure more examples will turn up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Justice Holmes: it is an honor, Sir.

      YES to your point that plagiarists, like other cheaters, rarely do it just once and reform. My husband and I were just laughing about this–can’t remember why, but it was maybe something about a tax cheat who was also an adulterer, or vice-versa. We were all like, “OH, WHAT A SURPRISE that someone who cheats in one aspect of their lives cheats in others.” It’s what cheaters do!

      Joke’s on us, I guess, considering that we’re now led by a Cheater in Chief.


  3. OK, just thought about this passage a little harder, from the penultimate pulled quote above:

    Instead, he uses the same sources that Kuzma used: A 1982 Indiana court ruling that was later sealed, a well-known pediatrics textbook, “Rudolph’s Pediatrics,” and a 1983 article in the Bloomington Sunday Herald.

    What are the chances that Gorsuch was able to find those sources, without raiding Kuzma’s article and stealing her research, AND without 1) getting a court order unsealed, 2) consulting a medical library, and 3) visiting the archives of the Bloomington Sunday Herald (or an Indiana state or university archive)? I’m guessing nil, but I don’t have the time to run these sources down online. (And in any case, just because something’s available online now doesn’t mean it was available in the early 2000s when Gorsuch would have been researching and writing his 2006 book.)


      • HAha! Right. He’s seen the Politico and Buzzfeed reports, and he’s commented on it. I’m not “finding” anything, just reporting on what other scholars have found.

        I’m sure his opinions will get plenty of attention from legal scholars. He can always blame his clerks if and when he gets caught plagiarizing again.


    • That’s definitely the most troubling practice, to my mind. It goes beyond “patchwriting,” at least in my definition, which involves citing the sources in which one found the information, but paraphrasing them inadequately. Claiming to have consulted sources one did not in fact consult is more than plagiarism; it’s lying.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Guess not! It was perhaps an accident at first, but it’s a good question: if it were an article written by a man, and/or in a more prestigious law review or journal, would Gorsuch have felt so willing or free to plagiarize? (Ppl in the know probably don’t try to plagiarize the big law reviews or journals, and/or from people who teach at very prestigious institutions, because they assume that their reach is far wider & therefore likelier to be traced back to them.)


  4. In my experience cross-gender plagiarism is ALWAYS male thief, female victim. I’ve also observed what Historiann reports: modesty and demure caution from the woman when she learns about the theft. She knows that if she’s outraged she’ll be called an arrogant beeyotch.

    It’s part of a larger pattern. Women get their ideas uncredited and ripped off by men in meetings all the time. If you think of a woman as basically a breast put on earth to nurture others then like Neil Gorsuch you will, so to speak, suck.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Of the six independent experts, some said it was plain plagiarism and the kindest criticism said it was sloppiness rather than plagiarism.

    So the *best* case is the Repubs are adamant about confirming, to the Supreme Court, a man who can’t even do good legal research.

    And they’re not ashamed of it. /*boggle*/


    • I’m not sure what justifies the assertion that Judge Gorsuch “can’t even do good legal research.” He seems to have been doing good legal research for years. I’m confused by the word “even”; what are the other things he cannot do?

      And if I were a senator and the President nominated for the Supreme Court a judge whom I considered ideal for the job (Sri Srivivasan, for example), I would not vote against him simply because he published a book that contained a few instances of negligent plagiarism. And I would not be “ashamed” to vote for him.


      • I don’t think that’s just negligent. His appropriation of Kuzma’s exact sources without citing her original article indicates malice aforethought.

        It’s really very easy to avoid plagiarism. All you have to do is 1) write something original based on your eclectic choice of primary and secondary sources, and 2) cite all of your sources and be as generous to them as you’d like your peers to be when using and citing your work. I think that’s foundational to good research of any kind. Now, whether or not one would vote against someone purely because they cheated in their academic writing–that’s a political question, to be sure. But I would hope it would make a senator think once or twice before casting a vote to install someone in a lifetime appointment, no givebacks, after it was revealed that they were dishonest in their profession.


  6. So to quote medical facts is plagiarism?? What about facts about climate change? If we quote the facts it is plagiarism? If a doctor quotes a diagnosis to a patient and it is worded the same way by some other doctor, is plagiarism??


    • It’s not plagiarism when you put (Bigwig 2006, Bounder 1994) after the statements to show where you got them. It’s called citing your sources.

      When you don’t cite your sources, yes, it’s plagiarism.


    • Please familiarize yourself with the citation practices of scholarship and read the linked Politico article. As Quixote says, everything needs to be sourced.

      The plagiarism is very clear, as is his exotic and non-coincidental use of the same sources as Kuzma.


  7. Not only is the general political situation demoralizing, I am still trying to figure out how to talk about this with students. Gorsuch, and his backers, have damaged academic standards. When senior papers show up following another scholar’s sources and narrative, and students claim to have been too busy networking for jobs to do their own research, analysis, and writing, do we simply sigh, and say go ask Trump’s people for work?
    I want them to take pride in learning. Gorsuch doesn’t seem to respect his source’s work and is being permitted to simply take. This is the Trump economy?


    • My students have their second midterm papers due in a week and a half–you better bet I’m making Gorsuch’s work exhibit A today in both of my classes!

      Most people still care about integrity, and most students recognize that the quality of their education relies on their integrity and the integrity of their classmates and professors. We can’t give up. We must stand up for academic values, for facts, and for quality research.


      • Brava! Gorsuch as an object lesson. I might shield students by omitting the partisan hackery spewed in defense of Gorsuch by John Finnis and Robbie George: too depressing.


  8. I wonder whether Princeton University Press is going to retract or correct the book (currently a bestseller on Amazon,which suggests some money might be available to apply to the task), and/or whether Oxford University Press is going to take another look at the dissertation? Both would be appropriate, even customary, actions when problems of this sort come to light.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This was the question both of my classes had yesterday when we discussed the case: what are the consequences? It really fed their cynicism to see someone “getting away with it,” and sadly, many of them claimed to be unsurprised by this behavior. Their reasoning was that “anyone who gets to that level of consideration has to have shapr elbows and have cut corners.”

      That was even a little too cynical for me. I believe that most jurists are honest in their opinions and other scholarly writings. Maybe I’m too optimistic or even naive, but even the ones I disagree with I assume have at least a genuinely well thought-out and honestly written corpus of rulings and opinions.


      • Yep. I’m finding this depressing because I was hoping that he’d at least contribute to the court’s deliberations by helping to sharpen the arguments of the more liberal members of the court (whom I devoutly hope will stay in the majority, though I realize that may be a futile hope) through disputation with a worthy opponent. But if he is not, in fact, the sharp, capable scholar he’s been advertised as being, that hope goes out the window. Maybe it’s possible to be negligent in citation but still sharp in legal argument, but I have severe doubts. To argue well, one has to know where ideas come from, and to care about the process. These sound like the actions of a someone who wanted to finish a Ph.D. and/or publish a book for the sake of the credential, not out of love for the process.


  9. [Somehow I thought I’d submitted this comment yesterday, but didn’t!] I hate to break it to you, but this battle’s lost and lost in the setting of the college class as well. Believe it or not, I have had a horrific time at my institution a) getting students to understand that the language of others isn’t simply there for the taking, even if they cite it; and then b) getting consistent backing from my department chair when students appeal my sanction for language theft, which is a zero for the assignment. There are a number of reasons why I think I get so much pushback from the chair, including primarily the fact that ze is a pretty poor chair all around (but also the reality that the campus mechanisms for running plagiarism up the chain are dated and unclear). Ze also sees hirself as a stickler against plagiarism but has often asked me whether language theft truly rises to the level that requires any kind of sanction. Which leads me to my broader conclusion: in the era of paper purchasing etc, I suspect that increasingly we’ll see plagiarism confined to the wholesale theft of papers (whether by purchasing or other means), with language theft the first to drop out of the definition and soon, I imagine, citations.


    • I think it varies widely by school/department. I’d report something like this to our honor council if it appeared in a final version (since I teach writing, including citation, anything less than provable deliberate deception — e.g. stealing a whole paper — on an earlier draft gets a temporary grade of zero and a required revision), and the sub-dean in charge of such matters would almost certainly persuade the student to “take responsibility,” which would result in the grade penalty I recommended (zero for the assignment, which usually means F in the course, since the researched paper is worth a significant proportion of the grade, and a remedial citation workshop).

      If the student decided to dispute the matter, it would go to a hearing, but, as a member of the honor council (not for hearings involving my own students, of course, we get enough cases that we have a large group of people from whom to draw for any particular hearing), I’m confident that that, too, would result in a conviction. My university takes this stuff pretty seriously, in part because our reputation, and the perceived quality of the degrees we award, is at stake. It probably also helps that we’re a big public university that is not wanting for students (though we can always use more out of state and international ones; still, I’ve seen no reluctance to hold those students to the same standards. There’s some recognition of different cultural practices and standards, and a willingness to educate students about those differences, but also a clear embrace of the idea that going to a U.S. university means accepting U.S. standards and practices).

      And the discussion of plagiarism on my syllabus mentions the possibility of plagiarizing structure as well as word choice, so the honor council would have that to point to if needed.


      • Actually, this all proves my point. If the only thing keeping plagiarism standards high at some institutions is institutional reputation, quality of degree, and/or no desperation for students, then it’s not about plagiarism at all. Your practices pretty well align with mine, but I’ve had senior students in the major senior research paper plagiarize (language theft) on the final paper and been told to stand down by the chair.


  10. We are seeing both patchwork papers like Gorsuch’s (apparently encouraged by some tutors) and paid help on assignments and beyond, because the emphasis is less on learning than credentials and publication statistics. The chronicle of higher ed had an excellent piece a couple of months ago on the plagiarism economy. I read it and thought it couldn’t apply to my institution.
    Then I was told–without apologies or embarrassment–that several colleagues had hired (paid, but not credited) editors to entirely rewrite their dissertations into books. I retain some hope that this isn’t true, but it has become the gossip in the halls.
    I don’t want to be cynical or encourage resignation, but these tales do lead to me thinking I should have spent less time struggling with my manuscript. They suggest that the number of different standards may be multiplying.
    We may not be able to fix the USA. But within current academic debates about assessment, qualifications and merit, it begins to look like we may need new ways to understand what students learn and colleagues accomplish.


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      • You’re welcome!

        Long ago. I warned CMPSC students I’d flunk them if they copied programs, and when they did, I usually caught them, and then I flunked them. Honest, hardworking students often thanked me… this was in era of punched cards and long nights in computer center, so students knew who was there working hard and who wasn’t.

        Liked by 1 person

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