Protestors gathered outside Trump International Hotel in Washington Thursday as Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered the keynote speech at an event hosted by a right-wing advocacy group—a move critics argued crosses fundamental ethical boundaries, given that the venue is currently the subject of numerous emoluments lawsuits that could soon reach the Trump-appointed judge's desk.
"By headlining this event, Gorsuch will personally enrich the very man who appointed him to his lofty position," notes Ian Millhiser of ThinkProgress. "And he will enable the very mechanism that allows Trump to profit off the presidency."
Thursday's event—titled the "Defending Freedom Luncheon"—is hosted by the conservative non-profit The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), which has received donations from the foundation of billionaire Charles Koch and several dark money organizations.
TFAS spokesperson Steve Slattery insisted in an interview with CNN that the group "had no political agenda" when choosing the venue for their event. "It's just a nice hotel," he said.
But legal experts and critics have ridiculed this argument as comically unconvincing.
"It is unlikely, to say the least, that conservative groups favor Trump's hotel as a venue because they are fond of its $24 cocktails," Millhiser wrote.
Millhiser went on to argue that Gorsuch's appearance at the TFAS event constitutes something of a thank-you tour, a reward to those who pushed so aggressively for his appointment.
"Neil Gorsuch knows where his bread is buttered," Millhiser noted. "And he rewards his friends."
Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, highlighted the emoluments lawsuits that have been filed against Trump and argued "[g]iven that these cases could very well make their way to the Supreme Court, Justice Gorsuch agreeing to speak there raises questions about his impartiality."
"The Trump International Hotel," Wydra added, "is one of the primary ways in which foreign governments are seeking to curry favor with the president."
In a recent open letter published online, a coalition of constitutional scholars and advocacy groups raised similar concerns and urged Gorsuch not to deliver the speech, arguing that his appearance at a Trump hotel would, at the very least, create "the appearance of a political endorsement."
"Neil Gorsuch knows where his bread is buttered. And he rewards his friends."
—Ian Millhiser, ThinkProgress
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"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," the groups argued. "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 invite-only event comes as the Supreme Court is gearing up to hear a bevy of high-profile and immensely consequential cases, one of which could "deal a sharp blow to the unions that represent millions of teachers and other public employees."
Several groups are protesting outside of the venue, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, People for the American Way, Planned Parenthood, and the Arab American Institute.
"Gorsuch: The Best Justice Money Can Buy," reads one of the demonstrators' signs.
— NARAL (@NARAL) September 28, 2017
— NARAL (@NARAL) September 28, 2017
— NIAC Action (@NIACAction) September 28, 2017