Federal Courts and Nominations

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch Criticized For Speech At Trump’s D.C. Hotel

By Jackie Northam

When the Fund for American Studies wanted a venue to celebrate its 50th anniversary, it picked President Trump’s luxury hotel in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the White House.

“We did not select the hotel because we were trying to send a message of support to President Trump, as some have suggested,” says Roger Ream, the president of TFAS. “We just thought it was a new elegant hotel and we’d try it.”

Ream, who says his organization favors limited government and free markets, booked the hotel in January, shortly before Trump’s inauguration. Then in June when it came time to pick the event’s keynote speaker, it approached Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, Justice Neil Gorsuch.

“He’s new to the court, not many people have had the opportunity to hear him speak, and I was impressed that he was a strong believer in originalism, which is something we emphasize in several of our programs,” says Ream.

Ream notes the invitation letter to Gorsuch specifically said the luncheon would be held at the Trump hotel. But he says the event is not being used to solicit donations from the 180 invited guests — a criteria set by Gorsuch before he accepted the invitation.

Still, profits from the food, drinks and parking for the luncheon will go to the Trump hotel. The president has moved his interests in the hotel to a revocable trust — but he is the sole beneficiary.

Elizabeth Wydra is the president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a nonprofit Washington think tank that is representing more than 200 members of Congress suing Trump, in part, for violating the Emoluments Clause. That provision of the Constitution prevents a president from receiving benefits or payments from a foreign government. Wydra says Gorsuch’s decision sends all the wrong signals.

“He’s helping a conservative organization put money into the pockets of the president who put him on the bench. And that doesn’t really give a strong sense of independence from that president,” says Wydra who believes Gorsuch’s speech at the Trump hotel seems like a sign that he is prejudging issues that involve the Trump administration that could come potentially land in the Supreme Court.

“You have the Trump hotel at the center of at least three lawsuits filed against President Trump for violating the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause…it’s certainly not a good look,” she says.

But Stephen Gillers, an ethics professor at New York University Law School, says Supreme Court justices speak to groups with political affiliations all the time — and they’re not violating any rules by doing so.

“No ethical document governs the behavior of a Supreme Court justice. They live in an ethics-free environment in so far as codes are concerned,” he explains. Still, Gillers says the problem with Gorsuch speaking at Trump’s hotel has more to do with optics.

“Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it. We rely on judges to exercise discretion to refrain from doing those things they can do but should not do to encourage public trust,” he says.

There have been calls for Gorsuch to back out of Thursday’s luncheon, but he may be cutting his own path. Last week, he delivered a speech to the University of Kentucky. He was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who helped shepherd Gorsuch’s nomination through the Senate.

Gorsuch is also due to in November to be the keynote speaker at an annual event put on by the Federalist Society — a legal group that provided Trump with names of potential Supreme Court nominees. Gorsuch was one of those names.

More from Federal Courts and Nominations

Federal Courts and Nominations
January 17, 2024

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights Sign-On Letter Prioritizing Diverse Judges

Dear Senator, On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the...
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 31, 2023

Liberal justices earn praise for ‘independence’ on Supreme Court, but Thomas truly stands alone, expert says

Fox News
Some democrats compare Justice Clarence Thomas to ‘Uncle Tom’ and house slave in ‘Django Unchained’
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, By Brianna Herlihy
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 7, 2023

In Her First Term, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson ‘Came to Play’

The New York Times
From her first week on the Supreme Court bench in October to the final day...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, by Adam Liptak
Federal Courts and Nominations
July 8, 2023

The Supreme Court’s continuing march to the right

Major legal rulings that dismantled the use of race in college admissions, undermined protections for...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra, by Tierney Sneed
Federal Courts and Nominations
June 25, 2023

Federal judge defends Clarence Thomas in new book, rejects ‘pot shots’ at Supreme Court

A federal appeals court judge previously on short lists for the Supreme Court is taking the rare...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra
Federal Courts and Nominations
May 1, 2023

Supreme Court, done with arguments, turns to decisions

Roll Call
The justices have released opinions at a slow rate this term, and many of the...
By: Brianne J. Gorod, By Michael Macagnone