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Gorsuch event won't help with perceptions of the Supreme Court

Amy Coney Barrett recently said she doesn't want people to see justices as "partisan hacks." I wonder if she's heard about Neil Gorsuch's upcoming event.

The Florida chapter of the Federalist Society has scheduled a big event at Disney World this week, and by all appearances, it will be a politically significant gathering. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican currently running for re-election, will be there, as will former Vice President Mike Pence, who appears to be gearing up for a national campaign in 2024. Former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany will also apparently be on hand.

As the Associated Press reported, they'll be joined by another prominent public figure.

Justice Neil Gorsuch is speaking this weekend to the conservative legal group that boosted his Supreme Court candidacy, in a session at a Florida resort that is closed to news coverage. Gorsuch is billed as the banquet speaker Friday at the Florida chapter of the Federalist Society's annual meeting, which is being held at the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista. The schedule on the organization's website notes, "The banquet is closed to press."

At least so far, there's been no public explanation as to why journalists won't be allowed to hear what the Supreme Court justice has to say to the conservative organization.

Talking Points Memo made an interesting point, noting that Pence and McEnany are both important witnesses of interest to Jan. 6 investigators, and legal disputes surrounding the attack may yet end up before the Supreme Court.

But I'm also struck by the larger context, including political perceptions of the sitting justices.

Circling back to our coverage from the fall, a national Grinnel College/Selzer poll conducted in October found nearly two-thirds of Americans agree that politics drives Supreme Court rulings. In fact, it was a rare area of bipartisan agreement: Democrats, Republicans, and independents all answered the same question in roughly the same way.

"This is a nightmare scenario for Chief Justice John Roberts, who has sought to protect the court's reputation as an apolitical institution," Grinnell College National Poll Director Peter Hanson said. "The court faces a public convinced that its decisions are about politics rather than the Constitution."

Around the same time, a Gallup poll also showed public attitudes toward the high court sliding to the lowest level since the pollster started asking the question a couple of decades ago.

It was against this backdrop that the Heritage Foundation hosted an event in celebration of Justice Clarence Thomas, who was in attendance to bask in the applause. He was lauded at the gathering by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell — the man who has personally spearheaded a years-long campaign to politicize the federal judiciary — who specifically praised the justice's work on a controversial issue that the Supreme Court was poised to consider.

McConnell's public praise for Thomas came three weeks after Justice Samuel Alito delivered the latest in a series of provocative speeches with an unmistakable political bent.

A couple of weeks earlier, Justice Amy Coney Barrett tried to defend the Supreme Court's political impartiality — while speaking alongside McConnell, who rushed her onto the bench during the 2020 presidential election as part of a brazenly political display, and who invited the justice to speak at a University of Louisville center that bears his name.

Now, it's Gorsuch who'll be hanging out with two of the Republican Party's most prominent national figures, at an event hosted by a conservative organization that won't allow journalists to cover the justice's remarks.

"My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks," Barrett said in September.

Heaven forbid. Why would anyone dare to think such a thing?