Attorney recalls campus battles with Gorsuch

Former college rival describes nominee as 'affable, intelligent person'

By Mike Mosedale
BridgeTower Media Newswires

MINNEAPOLIS - With Donald Trump's recent nomination of 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, Minneapolis attorney Jordan Kushner has been doing a lot of reminiscing about his college days in New York City in the mid-1980s.

The trips down memory lane have come at the behest of reporters who have been digging into Gorsuch's writings as an undergraduate at Columbia University, where Kushner and Gorsuch overlapped for three years and, on more than one occasion, sparred over the hot-button issues of the day.

"He was not a close friend," Kushner said of his one-time rival. "We were both politically active. Even though we were on opposite sides of the spectrum, we had interactions and we chatted on occasion. He was a very affable, intelligent person."

On campus, Kushner was active in student protests over everything from Columbia's investments in South Africa to its management of rental properties to the sale of Coors beer at the campus grocery store.

It was the latter topic that precipitated Kushner's most public spats with the future Supreme Court nominee.

At the time, Kushner recalled, Gorsuch was already well-known to campus liberals. In part, that was because of the notoriety of his mother, Anne Gorsuch Burford, who served a controversial stint leading the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan.

But Gorsuch's own politics were evident from his regular columns in the student newspaper, The Columbia Daily Spectator, where he attacked "the overwhelming superficiality" of liberal protesters like Kushner and frequently took against-the-grain positions on issues like the Iran-contra scandal.

Gorsuch's conservative bona fides were further amplified by The Federalist Paper, a rival newspaper he co-founded and helped to edit.

By 1987, Kushner and his like-minded allies were agitating for a boycott of Coors beers, which they accused of union busting, unfair labor practices and supporting "reactionary groups" such as the John Birch Society and the Moral Majority.

Anonymous posters soon appeared on campus urging students to extend the boycott to The Federalist Paper, which had run a Coors beer ad and which Kushner suspected was being underwritten by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Gorsuch took umbrage at those claims.

In an interview with the Spectator at the time, the future jurist flatly denied receiving any funding from the Heritage Foundation. He also raised the possibility of bringing a libel suit against whoever was responsible for the posters.

"I think the real issue is why these people are so fucking chicken and won't put their names on this poster," Gorsuch complained. "We know it's Jordan Kushner," he also said, according to the article.

The libel lawsuit never materialized but, as it turned out, that wasn't the only dust-up between the two future JDs.

Kushner said he had become "a symbol of radical activism to the right wing on campus" after a newspaper published a photograph of his arrest while protesting the eviction of a tenant in a Columbia-owned property. "That's why he [Gorsuch] started taking jabs at me in his articles," Kusher said, adding that Gorsuch mocked him for "smiling" in the picture.

In another one of those "jabs," The Federalist Paper reported that Kushner had been "dragged away" by campus security in the wake of a heated argument with the manager of the campus grocery about the sale of Coors beer.

Kushner disputed the account in "the made-up article," particularly the claim that a security officer had been forced to drag him off. Ultimately, The Federalist Paper's board of directors wrote a grudging correction which attributed the "slight inaccuracy" to an "unfortunate misunderstanding" with the grocery store manager.

Although neither The Federalist Paper story nor the subsequent correction were signed by name, Kushner said he is certain to this day that Gorsuch was the author of the offending article. "I talked to him about it," he said. "I don't remember him saying the words, 'I'm sorry, I apologize.' But he certainly expressed regret for the error."

After Kushner learned of Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination, he was a bit surprised by his initial reaction.

"When I saw his name, I had fond memories - at first," Kushner explained. "Then I remembered the substance."

"He was always someone who presented a moderate face to mask a radical agenda," Kushner ventured. "I think he does the same thing now. But through his legal training and judicial experience, he's much more polished and, therefore, much more dangerous."

At Columbia, Gorsuch's legacy survives in at least one tangible regard. But while the newspaper he co-founded, The Columbia Federalist, is still publishing, the overt politics of yesteryear have given way to Onion-like satire.

"Congratulations to Neil Gorsuch CC '88 on his nomination to the Supreme Court," the new editors wrote recently. "We would like to thank Judge Gorsuch for his continued support and blanket endorsement of all of our published work. For the past 30 years, Gorsuch has been an integral member of the Feditorial Board. Though he has busied himself with shallow legal pursuits, Gorsuch has always found time to contribute to our award-winning investigative journalism."

Published: Mon, Feb 13, 2017

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