Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s speech Thursday, at a Fund for American Studies lunch at the Trump Hotel in D.C., led to protests and questioning from the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) over whether his speech would impact an emoluments lawsuit against Trump alleging that he is accepting payments from foreign governments through the Trump Hotel.
Planned Parenthood and other leftist organizations led by NARAL signed on to a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts raising these concerns but some legal experts have dismissed them as “absurd.”
The letter cites the lawsuit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump which alleges that Trump is violating the emoluments clause because the Trump Hotel is “a channel for foreign influence.”
They claim that Justice Gorsuch’s appearance at the hotel “broadcasts a clear indifference to the emoluments argument to be heard in federal court two weeks later, in a case that many expect the Supreme Court to eventually decide.”
The groups also claim that Gorsuch’s appearance "will undermine the court's public legitimacy as an entity above partisan politics."
The letter does acknowledge that Supreme Court justices regularly speak before ideological groups, however, it claims that this speaking engagement presents “a higher ethical concern because the venue itself is seeped in adversarial partisan politics and the widely-reported appearance of corruption, if not explicit illegality.”
They conclude by asking what ethics rules apply “when any related emoluments clause case comes before the Court,” and if the Court will need to provide any transparency and public process around whether Gorsuch would need to recuse himself from such a case.
However, some legal experts are not troubled by Gorsuch’s appearance at the venue.
Steven Lubet, a law professor at Northwestern University told The New York Times that while Trump’s ownership of the hotel may be a problem, Justice Gorsuch’s appearance was not.
“It is unfortunate that President Trump has decided to disregard basic conflict of interest principles,” Professor Lubet said, “but I do not see anything wrong with Justice Gorsuch speaking publicly at the hotel.”
"This controversy is absurd, the idea that appearing at an event at this hotel would impact the emoluments lawsuit is already a stretch and the proposition that he is endorsing the hotel or the president on a broader level is even more ridiculous," Carrie Severino of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network told CNN.
Steve Slattery, the executive vice president of the Fund for American Studies which hosted the luncheon, told the Times that Justice Gorsuch had not been involved in the decision to hold the lunch at the hotel.
“He had no role in it,” he said. “Of course, he was told in the invitation where it would be held.”
Judging by their protest outside the Trump Hotel Thursday, NARAL and the other groups involved had a lot of problems with Gorsuch and Trump outside of potential ethical issues with the speaking engagement. In addition to chanting that Gorsuch was a “sellout,” they protested for everything from abortion access to immigration reform.