Neil Gorsuch Under Fire for Speaking Engagement

Neil Gorsuch meets with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is under fire at the moment. His sin? A speaking engagement with the Federalist Society.

In and of itself, the engagement shouldn’t be a big deal. Gorsuch isn’t the first justice to take on a speaking gig while on the Supreme Court, nor will he be the last. He’s not even the first Supreme Court justice to speak to the Federalist Society. From RedState:


Today, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch is the headliner at a meeting of the Federalist Society. This should not be big news. Supreme Court justices of all ideological stripes have given the keynote speech a Federalist Society meetings.

Justice Elena Kagan, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010, spoke at a Federalist Society event in 2005 and during her remarks reportedly said, “I love the Federalist Society.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, nominated by Obama in 2009, addressed a meeting of the Federalist Society that year.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Anthony Kennedy, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have all addressed Federalist Society meetings, as have Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts.

This year it is a scandal, or so I’m told, because the Federalist Society chose Trump International Hotel as its venue. This, via the improbably named ThinkProgress, is a sample:

On Thursday, Gorsuch will speak to a conservative group at Trump’s D.C. hotel. By headlining this event, Gorsuch will personally enrich the very man who appointed him to his lofty position. And he will enable the very mechanism that allows Trump to profit off the presidency. It is unlikely, to say the least, that conservative groups favor Trump’s hotel as a venue because they are fond of its $24 cocktails.

Then, in November, the tour will resume when Gorsuch keynotes the Federalist Society’s annual lawyer’s conference — the same conservative legal group that Trump relied on to pick Gorsuch in the first place.

Neil Gorsuch knows where his bread is buttered. And he rewards his friends.

The ethical implications of some of these events are uncertain. Gorsuch’s speech to the Federalist Society is fairly ordinary — judges often speak to this particular organization. The speech at the Trump Hotel, by contrast, drew concerns from multiple experts on legal ethics, many of whom are academics with no direct stake in Gorsuch’s behavior.

But even if Gorsuch’s actions don’t violate any explicit prohibition, they are certainly bizarre. Judges typically do not spend their early months on the bench conspicuously doing favors for the political actors who helped place them there. As the Atlantic’s Garrett Epps writes, “having decided to accept a nomination so befouled by politics, Gorsuch might have displayed a sense of humility.” Instead, “he will not even pretend to care about how the losers in the process see either him, or the Court.”



This is Trump Derangement Syndrome at its finest.

Trump International Hotel (and Donald Trump as an individual) isn’t being enriched by Gorsuch speaking. Trump would make the same amount regardless of who was speaking because the Federalist Society is footing the bill. The hotel’s fees are likely the same no matter who the speaker is. In other words, no one with half a brain would think Gorsuch is “enriching” anyone or anything.

Yes, there may be questions as to why the Federalist Society chose the venue, but having worked with various groups planning events, I can say that a lot of factors can play into a decision on the venue, and it’s incredibly cynical to think ownership factors that high on most people’s radar.

Even so, however, targeting Gorsuch for the criticism is ridiculous. There’s no evidence  he was involved in the planning, there’s no accusation that he pushed to have it somewhere that would benefit President Trump, and there’s no evidence that anything would be any different if the speaker were Sonia Sotomayor or Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

But, because it’s Trump, silly things like “facts” go out the window.


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