Posted by Guest on October 02, 2017 in Blog

Screen_Shot_2017-10-03_at_11.07.03_AM.pngby Sarah Seniuk

Raising serious questions about the ethics of an appearance by Justice Neil Gorsuch at the Trump International Hotel, DC, the Arab American Institute was joined by 17 rights organizations, in a letter to Chief Justice Roberts. The groups essentially asked Chief Justice Roberts to encourage his bench mate, Justice Neil Gorsuch, to turn-down a speaking engagement at Trump International Hotel, or to recuse himself from any future cases which involved the President or the President’s policies. While the venue itself is problematic because the President financially benefits from business conducted there, the letter also raised significant concerns with the sponsor’s funding connections. The Foundation for American Studies (TFAS), which held the event for an invite-only crowd of its TFAS “President’s Society,” has received funding from The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. This Foundation has also funded some of the largest anti-Muslim and anti-Arab groups in the U.S. including the Center for Security Policy, the Middle East Forum, and the David Horowitz Freedom Center. This is noteworthy as the appearance of Justice Gorsuch before TFAS occurred as the Supreme Court is preparing to hear arguments in the Muslim Ban case.   

Screen_Shot_2017-10-03_at_11.05.42_AM.pngPutting words into action, AAI organized a demonstration and was joined by a diverse group organizing under the hashtag #GorsuchRecuse including, People for the American Way, NARAL, Planned Parenthood, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Church World Services, and other concerned Americans to protest Gorsuch’s appearance and speech. Others, including Common Causerights organizations and a coalition of constitutional scholars and advocacy groups issued additional letters to Gorsuch, specifically critiquing the choice of venue.

The permitted protest occurred in front of the Trump Hotel and gathered dozens of protesters peacefully chanting and holding signs as TFAS’ guests arrived. At the center of the protest, for all participating, was a question of ethics and a fear that Justice Gorsuch’s actions were leading to questions about the Supreme Court’s impartiality. In their coverage of the protest, NPR reached out to NYU legal ethics professor Stephen Gillers to discuss what types of standards our justices are actually held to. And in terms of rules, there is no prohibition from justices taking partisan speaking engagements, but what was at issue, in his estimation, was the optics. 

Screen_Shot_2017-10-03_at_11.00.36_AM.pngOptics though should not be considered as something devoid of ethics and moral considerations. Gorsuch and other justices are not beholden by law to turn down partisan engagements, but the importance of their station upholds them to unspoken sets of ethics. If the goal of the Supreme Court is the evaluation of laws for the constitutionality and protection of Americans, justices must take care in actively embodying the work. Taking speaking engagements, even while unpaid, forces constituents to question the ability of justices to protect their lives and rights. 

Media coverage of the event was extensive and included:


Sarah Seniuk is a 2017 fall intern at the Arab American Institute