Liberal groups are raising questions about a speaking appearance Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch plans to make next month at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
Gorsuch is scheduled to headline a luncheon celebrating the 50th anniversary of conservative group The Fund for American Studies on September 28, days before the next SCOTUS term begins October 2.
Steve Slattery, a spokesman for The Fund for American Studies, said Gorsuch had nothing to do with venue choice, which was made long before the group asked Gorsuch to speak.
“We looked for a number of venues for our luncheon, and we ultimately picked that hotel because of its location and the amenities,” he said.
After a press release announced the event on Wednesday, progressive groups seized on the fact that the luncheon will be held at President Donald Trump’s hotel in DC.
Located blocks from the White House, the Trump International Hotel is the subject of multiple lawsuits. Despite a pledge to isolate himself from his business, Trump held on to his assets and placed them in a trust in his name. That arrangement means he will benefit from the success of the business, even if he doesn’t reap the rewards until after he leaves office.
Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center represents more than 200 members of Congress in a lawsuit alleging in part that Trump is violating a provision of the Constitution – known as the Foreign Emoluments Clause – which prevents the President from receiving payments from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.
“The Trump International Hotel is … one of the primary ways in which foreign governments are seeking to curry favor with the President, by holding events there, ” Wydra told CNN. “Given that these cases could very well make their way to the Supreme Court, Justice Gorsuch agreeing to speak there raises questions about his impartiality.”
Nan Aron, the president of the progressive Alliance for Justice, a group that opposed Gorsuch’s nomination, focused more on the optics of the event.
“Justice Gorsuch should have known better than to sign up as the headliner for an event that will line Donald Trump’s pockets in a way that is at best ethically sketchy, and at worst downright unconstitutional,” she said in a statement.
She also noted that SCOTUS is set to hear arguments on Trump’s travel ban during its first sitting.
But legal ethics expert Steven Lubet at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law said in an interview that he believes the speaking event does not raise ethical questions for Gorsuch, who was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2017.
“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. “The justices have no written code of conduct, but this would not violate the code of conduct for the lower courts either.”
Another group, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has also filed an emoluments suit targeting the DC hotel. A spokesperson for the group declined to comment on the Gorsuch event, citing the pending litigation.
In court papers in that case, the Justice Department responded that plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed because the Emoluments Clause is meant to “prevent official corruption and foreign influence.”
DOJ lawyers argue that the Foreign Emoluments clause is not meant to “reach benefits arising from a President’s private business pursuits having nothing to do with his officer or personal service to a foreign policy.”
CNN’s Cristina Alesci and Jill Disis contributed to this report.