Gorsuch’s speech stirred protests because of its setting: The Pennsylvania Avenue hotel is at the center of a lawsuit over whether commercial payments to President Trump’s companies improperly benefit the man who nominated Gorsuch to the court earlier this year.
[Gorsuch’s appearances raise questions about independence, critics say]
Outside, protesters organized by the abortion rights group NARAL and other organizations inflated a large figure in a hazmat suit for a “corruption cleanup.” They chanted that Gorsuch was a “sellout.”
Even Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) released a statement saying Gorsuch should not have gone to the hotel.
“Justice Gorsuch speaking to a conservative group in the Trump Hotel, where the president continues to hold a financial stake, is everything that was wrong with his nomination,” Schumer said.
But Roger R. Ream, president of the Fund for American Studies, told the crowd of conservative donors in the gilded Presidential Ballroom that politics had nothing to do with the luncheon celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary.
“Our director of special events chose this hotel before Donald Trump became president,” Ream said. “She did so because it is new and elegant — I think she made a good choice.”
The fund sponsors students here and abroad to learn “limited government, free-market economics and honorable leadership.”
Gorsuch made no mention of the controversy in his 20-minute speech, although he might at times have been talking about those outside.
The rights guaranteed by the First Amendment “ensure that Americans can say pretty much anything they want, for more or less any reason they want, more or less anytime they want,” Gorsuch said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”
But he said it also has to be balanced with a responsibility to hear others.
“We have to remember that those with whom we disagree even vehemently still have the best interest of the country at heart,” he said. “We have to remember that democracy depends on our ability to reason and work with those who hold very different views from our own.
“We have to learn how to not only tolerate different points of view but to cherish the din of democracy.”
Some critics were upset that Gorsuch’s visit to the hotel came on the heels of a trip with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the senator’s alma maters, where Gorsuch gave lectures and answered questions. Other justices give similar speeches frequently, but McConnell played a key role in blocking President Barack Obama’s nominee to the court and pushed Gorsuch’s nomination.
The hotel is the focus of a lawsuit alleging that payments to Trump’s companies violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids federal officials from accepting payments from foreign governments and compensation beyond their salaries from the federal government or the states.
Facing calls to divest his business interests, Trump turned over management of the Trump Organization to his two oldest sons and vowed to reap no hotel profits during his presidency. But against the advice of top federal ethics officials, he has retained his ownership stake in the hotel, allowing him to eventually profit from the business.