U.S. Supreme Court

Does Gorsuch speech at Trump hotel raise ethics concerns?

  • Print.

Neil Gorsuch

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

Justice Neil Gorsuch is scheduled to speak to a conservative group next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington. That's raising eyebrows among some ethics experts and liberals.

Justices often speak to liberal and conservative organizations, but that isn’t the source of the controversy, the New York Times reports. Instead, detractors criticize holding the event at a hotel run by the Trump organization and also point to the timing. The speech is slated for Sept. 28, a few weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

Gorsuch is speaking at a “Defending Freedom Luncheon” sponsored by the Fund for American Studies, which teaches the principles of limited government, free-market economics and leadership to students and young professionals, according to the nonprofit’s website.

The Times spoke with ethics experts who were divided on whether Gorsuch’s speech is appropriate.

The hotel ownership is being cited in lawsuits that contend the president is violating the emoluments clause because he eventually profits when foreign governments pay for using his hotel rooms. The clause bars officeholders from accepting presents or emoluments from foreign states. Trump’s ownership stake in the hotel is held in a trust partly controlled by his sons, and earnings from the hotel won’t be sent to the trust until Trump leaves office, the Washington Post reported in March.

Among the critics of Gorsuch’s scheduled speech is Nan Aron, president of the Alliance for Justice, CNN reports.

“This is as unsavory an enterprise as you can imagine: a Supreme Court justice effectively collaborating in President Trump’s ongoing efforts to monetize the presidency,” she said in a statement. “The Trump Hotel is ground zero for the controversy over whether Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause, a legal debate which may itself end up before the Supreme Court one day.”

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told the Times that a “healthy respect for public confidence in the court should have led Justice Gorsuch to demur,” especially since many Trump decisions are likely to reach the court.

“Not everything justices can do is something they should do,” he said.

Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode was even more emphatic, telling the Times “this is not rocket science in the ethical world.” Rhode said the group was sending “a terrible signal” by holding the event at the hotel, and Gorsuch was legitimizing it by attending.

“It just violates basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest,” she added.

Northwestern University law professor Steven Lubet told the Times he was troubled by Trump’s ownership interest in the hotel, but sees nothing wrong with Gorsuch speaking there.

“I think the relationship between between the Supreme Court cases and the hotel is too attenuated to create a problem for Justice Gorsuch—he’s not showing any favoritism from the president or benefiting from the relationship in any meaningful way,” Lubet said in a CNN interview. “The justices have no written code of conduct, but this would not violate the code of conduct for the lower courts either.”

Give us feedback, share a story tip or update, or report an error.