Several publications were aware that a group of Democratic supporters were shopping around a smear against Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch this week in which they alleged instances of plagiarism in his published works. The charges stem from a few passages from his book on assisted suicide and an academic article published over a decade ago. The group finally found a customer at Politico who ran with the claims last night.
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.
Delivering this sort of a shot across the bow less than 72 hours before we come to a vote should have been a fairly obvious tell, particularly when you consider that the entire world has had months to examine the judge’s writings. But how valid are these charges? Politico cites some sources (more on them below) who are claiming that the incidents constitute a violation of ethical standards, but that’s hardly the case. Ed Whelan at National Review notes the 11th hour nature of this smear and cites other academics who recognize when one needs or does not need to cite a particular source.
Dr. Chris Mammen, a fellow student of Gorsuch’s at Oxford, emphasizes that the “standard practice in a dissertation is to cite the underlying original source, not a secondary source, that supports a factual statement.”
Oxford professor emeritus John Finnis, who supervised Gorsuch’s dissertation and has reviewed the charges, says that “none of the allegations has any substance or justification” and that Gorsuch’s “writing and citing was easily and well within the proper and accepted standards of scholarly research and writing in the field of study in which he was working.”
At least four other academics have reviewed and rejected the plagiarism charges. But that evidently won’t stop some newspapers from scurrilously spreading them.
You can see the examples in the Politico article for yourself, but the material in dispute doesn’t constitute any sort of analysis or opinion. It’s primarily a group of dry descriptions of medical conditions. If I were writing an article here about about the opioid addiction crisis and wanted to explain what an “opioid” was in a sentence or two, I can assure you that a thorough search would find countless other examples of people saying the same thing. That doesn’t mean I stole their intellectual property.
Stunningly, even the person who Gorsuch allegedly “stole” the work from didn’t agree with the charge. The passages came from Abigail Lawlis Kuzma in an article she wrote for the Indiana Law Journal. Near the bottom of Politico’s article they quote her as dismissing the charge which is the basis of this attack.
“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.”
One of the issues we’ll be dealing with for the foreseeable future is the fact that plagiarism charges are going to become even more commonplace. As more and more writing is digitally stored and archived it’s become increasingly easy for people with the proper analytical tools to compare anyone’s published works with staggering amounts of source material spanning decades. In some ways this is great news because in earlier times it was often virtually impossible to sniff out actual cases of plagiarism if the pilfered source material was even somewhat obscure. Unless the original author or publisher noticed it, the crime might go undetected. But this is something of a double edged sword because now a cunning saboteur can find textbook definitions which show up all over the spectrum and toss out a charge of plagiarism to see if it sticks.
This is a rather sad attack, but now it’s out there and will become part of the legend in liberal circles. But I suppose this is the sort of ammunition you need in your bag if you’re desperately trying to find a way to explain why you are filibustering a nominee with essentially unimpeachable qualifications.