As a student at the tony, Jesuit-run Georgetown Preparatory School, Neil Gorsuch, the son of a Reagan administration official, was known as something of a conservative firebrand among the mostly center-left student body and faculty.
In the 1980s, students at the D.C.-area boarding school spent the minutes before student government meetings hashing out the political debates of the day.
Mr. Gorsuch, who was nominated on Jan. 31 to the Supreme Court by President Donald J. Trump, participated in the informal debates, where he was routinely teased, accused of being “a conservative fascist.” No shrinking violet, he would shoot back, taking on the liberal ethos of the school and even arguing with religion teachers about the liberal theological trends in vogue at the time.
Political differences aside, Mr. Gorsuch was popular and respected, excelling at debate and being elected student body president.
When it came time to write his senior biography for the yearbook, he would make light of the divide between his conservative political beliefs and those of the more liberal faculty and students.
He wrote that he founded and led the “Fascism Forever Club,” though those with knowledge of the school back in the 1980s say there was no such club. The mention of it in the yearbook was a tongue-in-cheek attempt to poke fun at liberal peers who teased him about his fierce conservatism.
It was “a total joke,” said Steve Ochs, a history teacher at Georgetown Prep who was the student government advisor during Mr. Gorsuch’s junior and senior years at the Bethesda, Md., school.
“There was no club at a Jesuit school about young fascists,” he told America. “The students would create fictitious clubs; they would have fictitious activities. They were all inside jokes on their senior pages.”
(The yearbook’s mention of the club is not the only item on Mr. Gorsuch’s profile that is raising eyebrows in some circles: A sarcastic quote from Henry Kissinger about how to get away with unconstitutional activities appears in both his prep school yearbook as well as his Columbia University yearbook.)
Now as Mr. Gorsuch readies himself for what promises to be intense questioning from Democratic senators still upset that former President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court was never given a hearing, a bipartisan group of his prep school classmates are urging that he be confirmed.
“We are doctors, lawyers, lobbyists, businessmen, bankers, brokers, investors, consultants, government workers, entrepreneurs and, yes, the General Manager of a Major League Baseball team that has won the most World Series Championships in history,” reads a letter drafted by members of Mr. Gorsuch’s 1985 prep school class to be mailed to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“We are prominent and active Democrats, Republicans, Independents, liberals, conservatives and moderates,” continues the letter, signed by about 70 of Mr. Gorsuch’s 90 or so classmates. “Most important, however, we have been friends with Neil Gorsuch for over 35 years, and he has not changed since we chose him to be the president of our student body.”
Stating that Mr. Gorsuch would serve “without any regard to the pursuit of any partisan policy or objective” and that he possesses “knowledge, integrity and a strong appreciation that his decisions will impact real people,” the letter urges the Senate Judiciary Committee to “give Judge Gorsuch the chance for approval by the full Senate.”
For its part, Georgetown Prep also appears to be proud of its alumnus.
In a statement from the president released on Jan. 31, Scott R. Pilarz, S.J., said, “We are proud to have a son of Georgetown Preparatory School, a Catholic, Jesuit school founded the same year the United States Supreme Court was established, nominated to the nation's highest court. All of us at Prep send our prayers and best wishes."
Mr. Trump promised repeatedly during his campaign that he would appoint a nominee in the mold of the late Justice Antonin Scalia. By many accounts, Mr. Gorsuch fulfills that promise. He has sided with groups that sued the Obama administration, including the Little Sisters of the Poor who said their religious liberty had been violated, and he has written extensively against physician-assisted suicide.
Some liberal organizations have expressed concern over Mr. Gorsuch, saying his past decisions have favored corporations over people. And although Mr. Gorsuch has not ruled on any major cases related to abortion, pro-choice advocates fear that he may chip away at laws permitting abortion.
Dr. Ochs, the student government advisor, called Mr. Gorsuch “a very brilliant guy” who even as a teenager “had that ability to be dispassionate about things.”
“He had that great gift of removing his emotion from the situation and looking at facts,” he recalled. “He didn’t let emotion cloud him; he was a great debater.”
When the pair reconnected in 2015 for Mr. Gorsuch’s prep school reunion, Dr. Ochs noticed that the judge did not engage in that most D.C. of party behaviors, always looking over the shoulder of one’s conversation partner.
“When he engages you, you’re the only game in town,” he said. More than 30 years after graduation, he said Mr. Gorsuch still “makes it a point to send notes to guys if he hears about a passing of a parent or if somebody’s been ill.”
As for concerns about Mr. Gorsuch’s purported early fascination with fascism, Dr. Ochs said the snippet in the yearbook—which he noted, for the record, he was not pleased that the yearbook editor let it be published—harkens back to a bygone era.
“There were some teachers who were ultra-liberal, and he would spar with them in class, like in religion class specifically, I remember, but always in good nature,” he recalled. “It sounds so strange today, when you can’t say boo without people going crazy, but it was all very good natured.
“There were some teachers who really didn’t like Reagan, and this is not appropriate, but they would challenge him and he’d come right back at them. He didn’t have any problem with that,” he continued. “He was an unassailably courteous kid, very popular with his class.”