SCOTUS Justice Neil Gorsuch accused of engaging in political partisanship after speaking to conservative group
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch will headline his first Washington speech on Thursday, in an appearance that has angered liberal groups because it will be held at the Trump International Hotel.
The invite-only event celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Fund for American Studies, a conservative group, which said the venue was booked before Trump was President and Gorsuch was nominated.
“We chose the venue, we had no political agenda. It’s just a nice hotel and a new venue for us, ” said Steve Slattery, a spokesman for the group.
As for Gorsuch, “we were looking for a speaker,” Slattery said. “So we thought, ‘let’s invite Justice (Antonin) Scalia’s replacement.'”
Gorsuch, whom President Trump nominated in January and was confirmed in April, is not being paid for his appearance.
Some liberal groups, however, have seized upon the event and that the luncheon will be held at Trump’s hotel, a property that they say is part of how the president is violating the Constitution.
Groups such as People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NARAL Pro -Choice America plan to protest the event. They signed a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts arguing that Gorsuch’s decision to appear at the event “will undermine the court’s public legitimacy as an entity above partisan politics.”
Located blocks from the White House, the Trump International Hotel is the subject of multiple lawsuits. Despite a pledge to isolate himself from his business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means he could benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office.
Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center represents more than 200 members of Congress in a lawsuit alleging, in part, that Trump is violating a provision of the Constitution — known as the Foreign Emoluments Clause — which prevents the president from receiving payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.
“The Trump International Hotel is one of the primary ways in which foreign governments are seeking to curry favor with the president, by holding events there,” Wydra told CNN. “Given that these cases could very well make their way to the Supreme Court, Justice Gorsuch agreeing to speak there raises questions about his impartiality.”
Nan Aron, the president of the progressive Alliance for Justice, a group that opposed Gorsuch’s nomination, also criticized his judgment.
“Justice Gorsuch should have known better than to sign up as the headliner for an event that will line Donald Trump’s pockets in a way that is at best ethically sketchy,” Aron said in a statement.
But legal ethics expert Steven Lubet at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law said in a recent interview that he believes the speaking event does not raise ethical questions for Gorsuch, who was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2017.
“I think the relationship between the Supreme Court cases and the hotel is too attenuated to create a problem for Justice Gorsuch — he’s not showing any favoritism from the president or benefiting from the relationship in any meaningful way,” Lubet said. “The justices have no written code of conduct, but this would not violate the code of conduct for the lower courts either.”
Justices have often appeared before ideologically aligned groups. Conservative justices like Samuel Alito and the late Scalia have spoken before the conservative Federalist Society, and liberals like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer have appeared before the more progressive American Constitution Society.
Another group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has also filed an emoluments suit targeting the DC hotel. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment on the Gorsuch event, citing the pending litigation.
In court papers in that case, the Justice Department responded that plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because the Emoluments Clause is meant to “prevent official corruption and foreign influence.”
DOJ lawyers argue that the Foreign Emoluments clause is not meant to “reach benefits arising from a president’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his officer or personal service to a foreign policy.”