SCOTUS Trump Nominee Neil Gorsuch Defended Columbia’s Infamous ‘Date-Rape Frat’

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President Trump’s first Supreme Court nominee, Neil M. Gorsuch, reveled in his identity as an outsider at Columbia University. Through prolific college writings—which will undoubtedly be referred to during this week’s Senate confirmation hearings—the undergraduate became the voice of a swelling ’80s conservative movement, often sounding a lone moderate note for open debate and individualism as he was pitted against what he perceived as a tide of “superficial” campus progressives.

He also really liked his frat.

 

Following President Trump’s January announcement nominating Gorsuch, the national press revived the 49-year-old’s college essays and editorials in the interest of exploring the past adventures and misadventures of the man who would be Antonin Scalia’s successor. In at least 19 columns published in the Daily Spectator, Columbia’s student-run newspaper, and The Federalist Paper, a conservative broadsheet that Gorsuch co-founded, the future federal appellate judge wrote sneering takedowns of  liberal students on campus and their causes. He also argued for what he saw as unpopular beliefs at the time, including university investments in apartheid South Africa, on-campus military recruitment, a pro-Reagan stance in the Iran-Contra affair, and consistently, for Columbia’s all-male fraternities.

Gorsuch’s own fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta—known more commonly as FIJI—welcomed him as a freshman in the spring of 1986 and he remained an active member until his early graduation in 1988. According to school newspaper reports and interviews with former Columbia students, FIJI’s reputation was unrivaled among Columbia’s 12 other fraternities at the time—defined by accusations of hard-partying, racism, sexism, and date rape. FIJI, as one former member claimed, was known as a house where the spiked punch flowed, and party tents known as “smut huts” were erected for one clear purpose.

The Phi Gamma Delta page in Columbia’s 1988 yearbook is a testament to the fact that FIJI’s party-hearty reputation wasn’t solely the product of rumors from know-nothing outsiders. It’s difficult to tell whether Gorsuch is among the 30 mostly white teens smiling from the fraternity’s group photo (they really do all look alike), but he is listed in the caption as one of its 42 members.

Along with a year of “leadership, athleticism, and community service,” the men of FIJI listed in the yearbook their other defining successes of 1988. Among them: drunken campus parties, alleged sexual prowess, and an unrivaled level of administrative discipline.

“The brothers of Fiji so ardently defend their color that no other fraternity is ever long successful in altering the appearance of the 114th Street fire hydrant,” they wrote. (According to Columbia lore, warring houses on fraternity row repainted the fire hydrant with their color whenever a member had sex with a virgin.)

After celebrating the “impressive social event” that was the annual FIJI Island Party, “which most of the campus will remember fondly (or not remember at all depending on how good a time they had),” the yearbook entry went on to boast that “Fiji is quite proud of its distinction of being the fraternity most placed on probation by the university.”

In a spring 1988 printed farewell to graduating columnists, Daily Spectator editors handed out nicknames like “amazin’ artiste,” “drawing demon,” and “fantastic feminist” to departing seniors. For Gorsuch, editors offered: “Neil Gorsuch, Fiji ain’t all that bad.”

When asked just what the nickname was meant to convey, Andrea Miller, a self-described “deeply involved campus activist” and former Spectator opinion-page editor who ran Gorsuch’s columns, says she remembers it as a nod to his passionate and constant support of Phi Gamma Delta.

Today, Miller calls Gorsuch’s columns “derogatory, dismissive, arrogant, and privileged,” but, she says, “it was incumbent upon me to make sure diverse voices were heard so we published them.”

When she heard President Trump had nominated Gorsuch to the high court, Miller says she thought, “Of course. With this president, it figures.”

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