Pretty much everything about Neil Gorsuch’s role on the Supreme Court is a matter of some controversy. The fact that Senate Republicans effectively stole a seat and held it for him, for example, remains outrageous.
Now that he’s on the bench, Gorsuch has raised eyebrows as the far-right stalwart that GOP partisans hoped he’d be. An NPR analysis last month found that the high court’s newest justice has taken the conservative position on literally 100% of the cases on which he’s ruled.
But there’s also his decisions away from the bench that are starting to draw scrutiny. The New York Times reports:
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, is scheduled to address a conservative group at the Trump International Hotel in Washington next month, less than two weeks before the court is set to hear arguments on Mr. Trump’s travel ban.
Stephen Gillers, an expert on legal ethics at New York University, questioned the justice’s decision to speak at the hotel, which is at issue in lower-court cases challenging the constitutionality of payments to Mr. Trump’s companies.
“At this highly divisive political moment, especially as many Trump decisions are likely soon to reach the court’s docket, one just days later, a healthy respect for public confidence in the court should have led Justice Gorsuch to demur,” he said.
The Times spoke to a variety of experts in legal ethics, and in fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that they were not unanimous in their concerns.
That said, the assessment from Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode rings true: “It’s a terrible signal for this group to be holding their meeting at the Trump International Hotel and for a Supreme Court justice to legitimate it by attending. It just violates basic ethical principles about conflicts of interest.”
Plenty of justices – left, right, and center – make appearances before various organizations, and as a rule, these events are uncontroversial. But as is often the case in the Trump era, the circumstances in this situation are not at all routine.
We’re dealing with a dynamic in which a president appointed a Supreme Court justice, who’s now headlining an event that will put money in that president’s pocket.
The fact that the high court may soon hear cases involving that same president only adds to the argument that Gorsuch’s role at this event is unwise.
The speech is scheduled for Sept. 28. There’s still time for Gorsuch to change his mind – or for organizers to pick a venue that Donald Trump wouldn’t directly profit from.