September 28, 2017 / 8:36 PM / 2 years ago

Supreme Court's Gorsuch criticized over Trump hotel speech

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointee Neil Gorsuch gave a speech to a conservative group on Thursday at a hotel in which Trump has a financial interest, drawing criticism from protesters outside the building and the top Senate Democrat.

FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch participates in taking a new family photo with his fellow justices at the Supreme Court building in Washington, D.C., U.S., June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

About 50 demonstrators appeared outside the Trump International Hotel located just blocks from the White House, saying Gorsuch’s speech called into question his impartiality as the high court potentially weighs cases involving the Republican president, including some involving the hotel itself.

“There’s a reason we questioned his independence during his confirmation hearings,” Senator Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

Gorsuch was confirmed by the Republican-led U.S. Senate to his lifetime position as a justice in April despite unified opposition from Democrats who said some of his past rulings favored corporations over ordinary Americans and doubted his independence from Trump.

Protester Josh Orton, a consultant for abortion-rights group NARAL, said if Gorsuch continues to make appearances that raise ethics questions “the Supreme Court will be in danger of losing its sacred reputation as a neutral arbiter of justice.”

Gorsuch did not address the controversy during his 20-minute speech, instead focusing on the work of the event’s organizer, The Fund for American Studies, which runs student academic programs and fellowships promoting limited government and free-market economics.

He spoke of his job as a justice, saying, “The people and the place are a joy.” He lauded American values such as free speech and civil rights.

Justices often address a variety of groups across the political spectrum in their spare time. But Gorsuch’s speech comes just days before the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court term in which Trump’s administration has a stake in several major cases.

The hotel is a focus of lawsuits accusing Trump of violating the U.S. Constitution by letting his properties and restaurants accept payments from foreign governments.

“Justice Gorsuch told the Senate during his confirmation that he was committed to the independence and integrity of the judiciary,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which represents more than 200 members of Congress in one of those lawsuits.

“His decision to speak at an event that profits the president, however, sadly falls far short of that standard – whether or not speaking at Trump’s hotel breaks any explicit ethics rules.”

Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said Gorsuch declined to comment on the ethics issue.

Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham

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