As the Denver Post’s Mark Matthews reports, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is speaking today at a conservative political group’s event at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.–a speech generating the first ethics controversy of what’s expected to be many decades on the nation’s highest court for Colorado’s most polite “radical son.”
It’s not clear what Gorsuch will say at the invite-only event, though organizers with The Fund for American Studies, a conservative group, said they expect he’ll talk for about 30 minutes on topics such as the constitution and American exceptionalism.
The speech, though, isn’t what is attracting an outcry — as there’s a long tradition of Supreme Court justices accepting invitations to speak before groups across the political spectrum.
Rather, it’s the setting inside the Trump International Hotel — a hangout for hangers-on of the administration just a few blocks from the White House. Critics contend Gorsuch’s presence there sends the wrong signal… [Pols emphasis]
Here’s an excerpt from the letter asking Gorsuch not to speak at the Trump hotel:
As you may know, the Trump International Hotel is owned, through LLCs and a revocable trust, by President Trump. This creates several ethical conflicts associated with your appearance there:
Political activity. Under Canon 5 of the Code of Conduct for United States Judges, a judge should refrain from “political activity.” President Trump has declared his candidacy for re-election in 2020. Consequently, your appearance at the Trump International Hotel creates the appearance of a political endorsement. However implicit, and however you may not desire to create such an impression, the appearance of such an endorsement is why you should not appear at a hotel owned by, and named after, a candidate for political office. This is not comparable to appearing at the White House, or appearing with the president at an official presidential event.
Subject of pending litigation. Because the hotel is owned by the president, it is currently the subject of several legal disputes that could come before you. These include three separate federal lawsuits involving the Constitution’s Foreign Emoluments Clause and the Domestic Emoluments Clause…
Judicial imprimatur for profiting from the presidency. Setting aside the legal questions associated with the hotel, the fact that the president is using his office to enhance the booking and room rates at a for-profit hotel for his own personal profit presents an unprecedented corruption of the presidency. Your participation in an event that will involve payments from the organizers to the hotel, and from there to the president himself, is inconsistent with the high ethical standards for an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. More broadly, your appearing at the hotel that has become one of the foremost symbols of the for-profit presidency is inconsistent with judicial independence and integrity.
The letter goes on to cite Trump’s recent extreme statements on a variety of issues as further reason to not give the Trump International Hotel any degree of “judicial imprimatur.” The fact is that the circumstances of Gorsuch’s confirmation, coming after an unprecedented year of stalling on the nomination made by Trump’s predecessor, have already given his appointment an unwanted air of scandal. By appearing at an event at a Trump hotel already mired in controversy, Gorsuch risks tying himself even more closely to a President likely to have a lot of legal action in his near future. And not the good kind.
The only thing we can add to that for today is another word about how commendable it was for Sen. Michael Bennet to vote against Gorsuch’s confirmation–factoring Republican treachery against Merrick Garland as well as Gorsuch’s hard-right judicial record against tremendous local pressure to support a fellow Coloradan. This won’t be the last chance to favorably contrast Bennet’s difficult decision with the full-on advocacy for Gorsuch from Colorado Democrats like Gov. Bill Ritter. Since Gorsuch will still be on the court when Bennet and Ritter are old men, it will be an evergreen topic.
But every time something like scandalous happens with Gorsuch, Bennet’s conscience will be clear. Ritter’s, not so much.