Gorsuch in His Youth: 'Fascism Forever'

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch founded and led a student group dubbed Fascism Forever, while attending a private prep school in suburban Washington in the 1980s. A Georgetown Prep yearbook described the club as an anti-faculty student group that battled the “liberal” views of the school administration, according to the UK Daily Mail.

“In political circles, our tireless President Gorsuch’s ‘Fascism Forever Club’ happily jerked its knees against the increasingly ‘left-wing’ tendencies of the faculty,” said the yearbook. Gorsuch led the club for the four years he attended the elite all-boys Jesuit school in Bethesda, Maryland.

Gorsuch’s willingness to joke about fascism in the service his conservative politics continued through his four years at Columbia University in New York City where he founded a chapter of the Federalist Society, the conservative law network. His senior photo was accompanied by a quip from Secretar of State Henry Kissinger: “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

The fact that Kissinger did indeed act illegally and unconstitutionally is relevant to the formation of Gorsuch's judicial formation.

While Gorsuch’s teenage politics are both a youthful indiscretion and a bit of irreverence in the face of perceived political correctness, they will certainly raise an eyebrow at his confirmation hearings. The public grilling of Supreme Court justices often comes to focus on the elusive question of temperament. The Republican moderates in the Senate who will decide Gorsuch’s fate are especially interested in "temperament" because its vagueness allows a certain for political maneuver.

Gorsuch's defenders are alreading youthful japes as the flora of immaturity long since shed. This is not an unreasonable defense. (Democrats would defend a liberal nominee who had joined the Socialist Workers Party in high school or quoted violent lyrics of a rapper. There's nothing wrong with youthful exuberance.

But Gorsuch now has the challenge of explaining away his immaturity while reaffirming his lifelong commitment to conservative politics, a tricky task especially in front of television cameras. His youthful antics open up a fertile field of inquiry for Democratic senators still bristling over the refusal of Senate Republicans even to consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court through the last 10 months of Obama’s presidency.

Republicans can ask, Sir, when did your sense of humor start to improve?

Democrats will have the rhetorial opening to highlight the continuity between Gorsuch’s youthful indulgence of "fascism" and his right-wing jurisprudence as an adult.

Gorsuch will seek to draw a clear bright line between the two. A lot depends on his personal demeanor in the face of cross-examination by the professorial Elizabeth Warren and lawyerly Al Franken. The confirmation hearings of the 49-year-old federal judge now loom as a hazardous minefield for the nominee and his supporters. 

Democrats will want to know: What did you know or think of fascism in high school? Did you intend to identify yourself with fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Augusto Pinochet?  What did you think was funny about Henry Kissinger’s quip—his willingness to act illegally or his desire to violate constitutional norms? 

Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, observed.

“Apparently, the young Mr. Gorsuch felt that celebrating fascism was some sort of politically incorrect joke. Fascism is not a joke. There is nothing amusing about it. It has been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people, the destruction of much of Europe, and the attempted genocide of the Jews. The idea that a potential Supreme Court justice may still harbor such notions is chilling, indeed.”

Presumably, Gorsuch does not identify with fascism today. He does need to explain himself.

The discovery of Gorsuch’s youthful antics also raises questions about the competence of the Trump White House. Did the president's advisers not know of Gorsuch’s immature antics (if that’s what they were)? Or did they know of his fondness for anti-democratic jokes, and decide to nominate him anyway?

Either answer is revealing. Neither helps the prospect of Gorsuch’s confirmation.

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