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Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch's Speech At Trump's D.C. Hotel Draws Criticism


Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch made a speech today that's getting some scrutiny not for what he said, but where he said it. Gorsuch, whom President Trump nominated to the high court, spoke at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. It's just steps away from the White House. NPR's Jackie Northam was there for the speech, and she joins us now in the studio. Hi, Jackie.


CHANG: So tell us a little bit about this speech. Who was Gorsuch addressing?

NORTHAM: It was to a group called The Fund for American Studies. And it's a conservative organization aimed at developing young leaders. There were about 180 invited guests and the media. And by the way, the ground rules said we are not allowed to broadcast the speech, otherwise I would play you a part of it.


NORTHAM: But let me say it was an earnest and folksy sort of speech and delivered in a rather understated way. And it really just focused on the Founding Fathers and the importance of civility. And there was nothing inflammatory in it at all.

CHANG: Well, if that's the case, then why did Gorsuch's appearance create so much controversy?

NORTHAM: Because of where he gave this speech, and that was the Trump Hotel here in D.C. And it's not that Gorsuch crossed any sort of legal line at all. But ethics experts that I talked to with - talked with this week said it's just the optics on this are bad. If you remember, it was Trump who appointed Gorsuch, and now one of his first speeches is at the president's hotel. And there's a real concern that this could undermine the public's confidence in Gorsuch's judicial independence. And Senate Democratic leader Chuck - Chuck Schumer raised that point today. You know, there are cases involving the Trump administration that could go before the Supreme Court.

CHANG: Sure.

NORTHAM: Something like the travel ban. And in fact, the hotel itself is involved in a number of lawsuits as well. But not only that, Ailsa, you know, the profits from today's luncheon - and this - you know, the Trump Hotel is a very expensive hotel.

CHANG: Right.

NORTHAM: Those profits will go to the Trump Organization. Now, the president has removed himself from the day-to-day operations and put his business into a revocable trust, but make no mistake, he is the sole beneficiary.

CHANG: Right. Is Gorsuch getting paid for this speech at the Trump Hotel?

NORTHAM: No. The group holding the event said he wasn't paid and that really one of Gorsuch's criteria for accepting the invitation to speak was that the event not be used to solicit donations. But, you know, people are now looking closer at other speeches Gorsuch has given or is about to give. And last week, he was in Kentucky at a couple of events with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

CHANG: Right.

NORTHAM: And Mitch McConnell was the one who helped clear the way to get Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. And then in November, Gorsuch is due to deliver a keynote address to the Federalist Society. This is a conservative legal group. And it gave a list of names to President Trump of possible Supreme Court nominees, and Gorsuch's name was on that. So if you think about it, you have Gorsuch speaking to the group that put forth his name. He was speaking at an event with a Senate majority leader who helped quickly shepherd him onto the Supreme Court. And today he gave a speech at the president's hotel, and it was the president who appointed him. So again, it's all about the optics.

CHANG: All right, that's NPR's Jackie Northam. Thanks, Jackie.

NORTHAM: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.