Justice Gorsuch Should Reconsider Plan to Speak at Trump-branded Hotel

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  • Dale Eisman
Appearance Could Violate Judicial Ethics, Common Cause Warns

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch risks violating judicial ethics if he follows through on plans to deliver a keynote speech at a “Defending American Freedom” luncheon next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, Common Cause warned today.

In a letter to Gorsuch, Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn describes as “deeply troubling” Gorsuch’s plan to make such a speech at the Trump-branded hotel, just a few blocks from the White House. She also suggested the justice may run afoul of Canon 4 of the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges if the event is a fundraiser for its sponsor, The Fund for American Studies (TFAS). The canon bars federal judges from serving as “a speaker, a guest of honor, or [being] featured on the program” of fundraising events.

The TFAS luncheon is described by its sponsor as “an invite-only event, exclusive to members of the TFAS President’s Society.” Hobert Flynn said that if membership in the President’s Society requires a financial contribution to TFAS, the group is using Gorsuch’s appearance as a fundraising incentive.

Common Cause has endorsed the Supreme Court Ethics Act, a bill that would require the high court to adopt its own ethics code, with provisions duplicating those covering other federal judges. Chief Justice John Roberts has resisted calls to bring the Supreme Court under the existing code but has described it as “the starting point and a key source of guidance for the justices” on ethical matters.

Hobert Flynn said Gorsuch’s plan to speak at the Trump hotel “has already attracted significant publicity for the hotel and President Trump’s businesses,” raising questions about possible conflicts of interest should cases involving the hotel and Trump’s other businesses reach the Supreme Court.

Trump’s ownership of the hotel, which occupies space in a former post office leased to the Trump organization by the federal government, is the subject of at least three lawsuits accusing the president of violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution. The clause bars the president and other federal officials from accepting gifts or payments from foreign governments.

Since Trump’s election, the hotel has become a popular host for officials of foreign governments visiting Washington and for meetings and events sponsored by Republican and conservative groups. Trump and senior members of his administration also have dined there repeatedly and Hobert Flynn’s letter notes it is “closely tied to the president’s re-election campaign and other partisan political causes.”

Gorsuch’s nomination by Trump and his elevation to the Supreme Court last spring is widely seen as the most significant accomplishment of Trump’s presidency to date. The opportunity to fill the seat fell to Trump because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Senate Republicans blocked President Obama from filling the seat for more than a year.