Gorsuch plagiarism allegations involve Indiana source

April 5, 2017

Reports that Neil Gorsuch may have plagiarized legal writings, including one from an Indiana lawyer, broke late Tuesday, adding to the Washington drama over President Donald Trump’s nominee to the United States Supreme Court.

Politico highlighted samples of Gorsuch’s writing in his book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia” that borrowed heavily from a 1984 Indiana Law Journal article written by Abigail Kuzma, “The Legislative Response to Infant Doe.”

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill, who has been a vocal supporter of confirming Gorsuch, in a statement said, "Nothing recently reported on Judge Neil Gorsuch has caused me to change my belief that he is exceptionally qualified and will be an outstanding justice of the United States Supreme Court. I look forward to his confirmation."

Kuzma, who worked in the attorney general's office under former AG Greg Zoeller, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Politico reported Kuzma released a statement through Gorsuch’s team in which she dismissed allegations of plagiarism because the passages in question were factual rather than analytical.

The Politico report included side-by-side comparisons of the two articles’ texts. Legal writing experts Politico contacted to review the articles described the similarities variously from innocuous to plagiarism. A White House spokesman told Politico the revelations were politically motivated attacks by Democrats filibustering Gorsuch’s nomination.

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law professor Allison Martin teaches professional responsibility and legal writing in addition to an online course dedicated to plagiarism. She said Gorsuch’s writing compared with that of Kuzma’s would have been investigated had it been discovered in one of her classes.

When plagiarism is discovered in her classes, Martin said, students face sanctions ranging from a failing assignment grade to expulsion. Plagiarism requires no intent, she said, and there is no distinction between facts and analysis in the academic setting.

Plagiarism, and what constitutes it, is nuanced, she said, and the rules that apply in an academic setting may not apply for lawyers and judges.

She said it’s unclear whether Gorsuch’s confirmation may be harmed by the reports, though it will be talked about.

“I don’t know if people are so used to plagiarism they’re desensitized to it. That’s the question,” she said, noting public figures from former Vice President Joe Biden to first lady Melania Trump have weathered such criticism. “It raises a flag in my mind.”

Martin said she expects to refer to these plagiarism accusations in future classes, emphasizing the avoidable nature of the situation.

“You just need to attribute,” she said.

The report comes as Gorsuch’s nomination heads for a showdown in the Senate tomorrow. Democrats will try to block Gorsuch’s confirmation, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed to change Senate rules, the Associated Press reported, lowering the threshold required to advance Supreme Court nominees from 60 votes to a simple majority of the 100 members.

Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, spoke for 15 straight hours against Gorsuch’s nomination.

“This is an extreme nominee from the far right who doesn’t believe in the fundamental vision of ‘We the People’ and makes decision after decision through tortured, twisted, contrived arguments defined for the powerful over the people, and that is unacceptable,” Merkley said.

Following Merkley on the floor, McConnell ridiculed the opposition from Democrats.

“Democrats would filibuster Ruth Bader Ginsburg if President Donald Trump nominated her,” McConnell said, naming one of the more liberal sitting justices. “There is simply no principled reason to oppose this exceptional, exceptional Supreme Court nominee.”


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