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Law professors discuss U.S. Supreme Court appointee

Neil Gorsuch served his first day on the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday.

Professors in the Beasley School of Law said the appointment of Neil Gorsuch as the next Supreme Court justice could set important precedents for future nominations and plagiarism in academics — but it’s all still up in the air.

Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s nominee for Supreme Court justice, was confirmed by the United States Senate two weeks ago after Senate Democrats filibustered the confirmation vote and Republican Senators responded with the “nuclear option,” which changed the longstanding confirmation procedure so Gorsuch could be confirmed with 51 votes instead of the usual 60. His first day was Monday, according to the New York Times.

Mark Anderson, a law professor, said he hasn’t discussed Gorsuch in his classes, but the Democrats’ filibuster didn’t come as a surprise to him.

“From my perspective, the filibuster hadn’t really been in effect since 2005,” he said. “In order to save it, there was a sort of gentlemen’s agreement not to use it except for in the case of an extreme nominee.”

Law professor Mark Rahdert, who specializes in constitutional law, said the level of normalcy of Gorsuch’s confirmation depends on how it’s analyzed.

He said the confirmation process is one of the areas in which cooperation between major political parties is crucial to the federal court’s welfare. He said parties must try to put aside their partisan differences and confirm candidates based on their qualifications, not their ideologies, in order to avoid political revenge.

Gorsuch’s confirmation was controversial because Senate Republicans refused to recognize former President Barack Obama’s nominee for Supreme Court, Merrick Garland, in 2016, before Trump took office.

“I think that the Republican majority’s refusal to consider President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland was deplorable and clearly purely partisan in orientation, and the Democrats felt they were obliged to respond by attempting to thwart President Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch,” Rahdert said.

“We’re in a really bad place with really bad leaders who are willing to sacrifice the judiciary to their own partisanship views,” Rahdert added.  “Both parties are complicit in this.”

Gorsuch’s confirmation establishes a conservative leaning in the Supreme Court and comes at a time when the Republican party also holds the presidency and Congress majority.

Corey McMonagle, a first-year law student, said one of his professors suggested the Supreme Court’s political composition will likely look similar to the way it did when Republican Justice Antonin Scalia presided. Still, the professor said it’s impossible to predict how Gorsuch will behave until he participates in the decision-making on this level.

Gorsuch has also been criticized in news media outlets like Politico, Bloomberg and the Washington Post for potentially plagiarizing parts of his 2009 book, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”

Anderson said he thinks Gorsuch probably did plagiarize, but he’s unsure of the repercussions for academic plagiarism outside the collegiate community.

Rahdert said what constitutes plagiarism and the specific circumstances of Gorsuch’s case would have to be investigated before a judgment could be made on his honesty.

“At the same time, talking about someone who will hold that position for a long time, a position where honesty and personal integrity are paramount, we need to be careful,” Rahdert added.

Laura Smythe can be reached at laura.smythe@temple.edu.

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