Flashback: 'Biden Admits Plagiarizing in Law School,' 'Academic Claims Inaccurate'

Michael W. Chapman | May 20, 2019 | 1:47pm EDT
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Former Vice President Joe Biden
(D). (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Six days before he withdrew from the 1987-88 presidential race, then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.), who was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, confessed that he had plagiarized a paper in law school, as the Washington Post reported at the time with the headline, "Biden Admits Plagiarizing in Law School."

At the time, Senator Biden was also facing numerous other allegations of plagiarism, including lifting passages from British Labor leader Neil Kinnock, Robert F. Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, and even John F. Kennedy.  Biden also misrepresented his standing in law school, claiming that he had graduated in the "top half" of his class when he actually was ranked 76 out of 85.

He further claimed that he had earned "three degrees." In reality, Biden earned a B.A. with a double major (History and Political Science) from the University of Delaware in June 1965.  He was ranked 506 out of a class of 688 students.

As the Washington Post reported on Sept. 22, 1987, Biden's "undergraduate academic records show that he graduated from Delaware 506th in a class of 688 with a 'C' average and that he got his undergraduate degree with a dual major in history and political science."

In another untruth, Biden claimed that he had attended law school on a "full scholarship."  When he finally released his academic records in September 1987, they revealed that "he attended law school on a half-time scholarship based on financial need and that he graduated 76th out of a law school class of 85," reported The Post. 

When he admitted to the law school plagiarism -- he got an "F" in the class -- Biden said, "I did something very stupid 23 years ago." He described it as a "mistake" that was not intentional, said The Post. "The record showed that in a meeting on Dec. 1, 1965, the law school faculty found that Biden had, 'without quotation or citation,' lifted five pages from a published law review article and used them in his 15-page paper for a legal-methods course," reported The Post

"In the marketplace of ideas in the political realm, the notion that for every thought or idea you have to go back and find and attribute to someone is frankly ludicrous," said Biden, who was 44 in 1987. "I've done some dumb things, and I'll do some dumb things again. ... I'm in this race to stay. I'm in this race to win. And here I come."

Biden was allowed to retake the course at Syracuse University College of Law, which he did; he earned a grade of 80. Biden was admitted to the Delaware Bar Association in 1969.

 (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

Two days after Biden released his school records, he withdrew from the 1987-88 presidential race. As the New York Times reported on Sept. 24, 1987, the news stories about "his lifting of sections from the speeches of others and on his record in college and law school" were devastating. 

''Although it's awfully clear to me what choice I have to make, I have to tell you honestly, I do it with incredible reluctance, and it makes me angry,'' said Biden at the 1987 press conference where he announced he was dropping out of the race, reported The Times

''I'm angry at myself for having been put in the position -- put myself in the position -- of having to make this choice,'' he said.  ''And I am no less frustrated for the environment of presidential politics that makes it so difficult to let the American people measure the whole Joe Biden and not just misstatements I have made.''

The Times continued, "Mr. Biden's troubles began with the revelation in The New York Times and The Des Moines Register that he had used, without attribution, long portions of a moving address by the British Labor Party leader, Neil Kinnock. Later, it emerged that he had also used passages from the speeches of Robert F. Kennedy and Hubert H. Humphrey."


"Then, it was revealed that Mr. Biden had been disciplined as a first-year law student for using portions of a law review article in a paper without proper attribution," said The Times.  "Mr. Biden tried to put the charges behind him by admitting to mistakes at a news conference, but he was hit again by a Newsweek magazine report on a videotape of an appearance in New Hampshire in which he misstated several facts about his academic career."

Six days before Biden withdrew, as The Post reported, he said at a press conference, "If anyone tells you Joe Biden isn't a straight arrow, I'd be very surprised."

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