U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch addressed a luncheon of The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) at the Trump International Hotel Thursday, amidst criticism about the propriety of his appearance at a venue some say symbolizes the alleged political profiteering of the Trump administration.
The justice spoke to a lunch time crowd at the Trump Hotel just after the 1:00 p.m. The group gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of TFAS’ founding. Inside the room were some 150 guests representing most of the conservative legal firmament. The exterior of the hotel was flanked on all sides by guardrails, a bulwark against protesters who never came in significant numbers.
The substance of Gorsuch’s speech was an appeal to the importance of civic education and civility. The wide dissemination of knowledge was the essential condition of a functioning democracy, and that mutual respect and trust must be the ground on which civic action takes place, the justice said.
“Without civility our bonds of friendship in our communities dissolve,” he said.
“To be worthy of our First Amendment freedoms, we have to all adopt certain civil habits that enable others to enjoy them as well,” he added. “It’s no exaggeration to say, I think, that to preserve our civil liberties, we have to constantly work on being civil with one another.”
The justice’s appearance at the Trump International elicited criticism from some legal ethicists and liberal public interest lawyers. Critics charge his appearance at the property was inappropriate given its prominent role in a number of actions brought against the president, alleging violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause. The clause prohibits federal office holders from accepting gifts from foreign governments or leveraging their position for private profit.
Gorsuch’s appearance at the Trump Hotel was inappropriate, Fix the Court, a nonpartisan Supreme Court watchdog, argued, as Trump or members of his administration regularly litigate before the justices. The group also lamented that, as late, the justices often confine their public appearances to ideologically sympathetic audiences.
“A Trump appointee speaking at a Trump hotel as the Court considers a Trump case unnecessarily invites reproach of our sole functioning branch of government and hurts its legitimacy,” said Gabe Roth, the group’s executive director. “Justices should not only seek out less controversial venues, they should also try to address ideologically diverse groups, as the impact of seeing the country’s leading jurists appear before contrarian audiences would go far beyond whatever words they’d share.”
Fix the Court also circulated a petition urging Chief Justice John Roberts to set clearer ethics rules for the Court.
Others claim the event was the latest stop on something of a victory tour. Gorsuch last week visited the University of Louisville at the invitation of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, where he spoke at the senator’s eponymous public affairs institute. McConnell helped secure Gorsuch’s confirmation by keeping the vacancy occasioned by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death open for over a year.
The justice is slated to address the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention later this year. A conservative and libertarian debating forum, Federalist Society hands played a major role in boosting Gorsuch’s prospects with the Trump administration as the White House vetted potential nominees.
Gorsuch also shared an amusing anecdote during his remarks regarding a mounted elk’s head, which his office inherited from Scalia’s chambers. Scalia killed the elk, called “Leroy,” on a hunting trip in Gorsuch’s native Colorado, one of several things the justice claimed to have in common with the deceased game.
“We both received a rather abrupt summons to Washington,” he joked. “And neither of us is ever going to forget Justice Scalia.”
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