Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist'
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The frustration many Democrats and liberals feel about Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination is easy to understand.

They believe, with some justification, that a Supreme Court seat was stolen from them when Republicans in Congress explicitly chose to stall the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland for nearly a year to wait out the election. They also believe that, despite Judge Gorsuch’s excellent qualifications, his judicial philosophy which emphasizes following the intent of the law even if leads to an undesirable outcome is at odds with true justice, especially for the disadvantaged and the less powerful.

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For all those reasons, Democrats have vowed to filibuster Gorsuch’s nomination. Agree or disagree, these are legitimate political and intellectual arguments.

 

What’s not legitimate is character assassination based on rumor, innuendo, and distortion.

First, shortly after Gorsuch’s nomination, came the allegation that he had started a “Fascism Forever” club at his preparatory high school. It was retracted after fact-checking sites such as Snopes showed that it was spun from an obvious high-school yearbook joke.

Then, on the eve of this week’s confirmation hearings, National Public Radio and other media outlets reported on shocking accusations by a former law student of Gorsuch’s at the University of Colorado Law School, Jennifer Sisk, made public by the National Women’s Law Center.

According to Sisk, Gorsuch had suggested in a class discussion last year that job discrimination against women who plan to have children is justified and that women routinely manipulate employers to get maternity benefits. Partial corroboration from a second, anonymous student led to reports that multiple students were accusing Gorsuch of 1950s-style sexism.

But just 12 hours after the story was posted, NPR added an update that came close to “Never mind.” Sisk, it turned out, had worked for Democratic Senator Mark UdallMark UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' MORE and for the Obama administration. Meanwhile, another student who had been in the same class disputed the account, saying that while topics of work and family did come up, Gorsuch did not discuss them in a sexist fashion. And 11 women who had been Gorsuch’s law clerks came forward to attest that he had always treated women as fully equal to men and respected family concerns.

Sisk may well have misinterpreted Gorsuch’s comments in a discussion of hypotheticals and “devil’s advocate” arguments. Given that she sent her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, it was not irresponsible for NRP and other media to run the story — though journalists should have exercised more diligence in evaluating Sisk’s credibility.

The same cannot be said for a story that ran the night before in The Daily Beast, a leading online publication, under the sensationalist headline “Neil Gorsuch Defended Columbia’s So-Called ‘Date-Rape Frat.’” The piece, by staff reporter Brandy Zadrozny, focuses on Gorsuch’s years as an undergraduate at Columbia University in 1985-1988, when he was a member and strong supporter of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (nicknamed “FIJI”). It is a remarkable hodgepodge of innuendo and guilt by association.

The inflammatory claim that FIJI was known as a “date-rape frat” during Gorsuch’s time on campus is based on a single comment during a March 1987 protest targeting the fraternity after an incident of alleged racial violence on campus: Four white fraternity members, two from Phi Gamma Delta and two from Sigma Chi, had been involved in a brawl during which racial epithets were reportedly shouted at black students.

As the demonstrators stopped in front of the FIJI house, one of their leaders, Tanaquil Jones, declared that the frat “has the reputation in the Columbia community of being the date rape fraternity, among other things.”

The Columbia Spectator piece which reported this comment did not elaborate further, but it is possible that Jones got the two fraternities mixed up: Another Columbia Spectator article, a 1989 opinion column by then-student senator David Amanullah, referred to a “gang rape of a Barnard student a few years ago in the present Sigma Chi house.”

That 1989 column is one of The Daily Beast’s other sources for FIJI’s bad reputation: Zadrozny quotes Amanullah’s statement that “every female first-year student has heard horror stories about Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) and Beta Theta Pi members, and is warned of the dangers of getting drunk in either house.”

Yet the larger context of Amanullah’s piece, a defense of single-sex fraternities, makes it clear that he regards these claims as somewhat exaggerated: thus, he points out that despite claims of sexism at FIJI, women continue to attend the frat’s open parties in large numbers.

The other evidence in the Daily Beast piece is equally sketchy. Zadrozny claims that “FIJI’s reputation was unrivaled among Columbia’s 12 other fraternities at the time—defined by accusations of hard-partyingracismsexism, and date rape.” But her source for the charge of sexism, a 1986 Columbia Spectator piece by former FIJI member Brendan Mernin arguing that all-male fraternities are a relic of the school’s “racist, sexist, and elitist past,” does not single out FIJI and says only that “some fraternities” harbor bad attitudes.

The source for the charge of “date rape” is also a claim by Mernin, who said at a 1988 campus forum that he left FIJI in part because of “the date-rape of a friend of his by fraternity members.” Zadrozny also quotes an organizer of Columbia’s 1988 Take Back the Night march, which protested sexual violence, as saying that the protesters stopped in front of FIJI and “another house” because of concerns about those two fraternities. Yet the Columbia Spectator report on the march makes no mention of any specific fraternities being singled out.

More than halfway into the piece, Zadrozny does concede that there were no actual allegations of rape or sexual misconduct at the FIJI house during Gorsuch’s student years and that the first police report of a sexual assault at the fraternity occurred in 1998 — 10 years after his graduation.

What, then, was Gorsuch’s actual offense? He was apparently loyal to a fraternity that threw noisy parties, had two members who were involved in a racially charged fight, and was the subject of some nasty rumors — and was also, as Zadrozny acknowledges in passing, engaged in worthy activities such as charitable fundraising. He even co-wrote a piece defending the Columbia system of both single-sex and coeducational fraternities as one affording the most options to people. Burn the heretic!

Zadrozny also insinuates that Gorsuch was part of a male backlash at Columbia against the school’s then-recent gender integration. The proof? When Gorsuch filled out a questionnaire while running for the student senate, “he answered a question about whether Columbia’s famed ‘core curriculum’ should include more women and minority authors with a terse, ‘If possible, yes.’”

So, while he did not oppose adding more minorities and women to the curriculum, he did not display proper enthusiasm for it? This attitude has disturbing overtones of the mindset of totalitarian dictatorships or cultish religious groups in which insufficient zeal can make you suspect.

Gorsuch’s legal views are fair game. But the attempts to paint him as a misogynist are pure smear tactics. Such maneuvers by progressive activists smack of desperation; when adopted by journalists, they also smack of blatant bias. It’s the kind of reporting that gives ammunition to those who slam the mainstream media as “fake news.”

Cathy Young is a contributing editor for Reason magazine and a columnist for Newsday. Follow her on Twitter at @CathyYoung63.


The views of Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.