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Is Justice Gorsuch's Appearance at Trump Hotel a Conflict of Interest?

By George Khoury, Esq. on August 22, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Headlines have been popping up in various media sources questioning the propriety of Justice Neil Gorsuch's planned speaking engagement at the Trump Hotel. This is primarily due to the fact that the speaking engagement is set for September 28, and the oral argument on the president's "travel ban" executive order is scheduled for October 10 (just 12 days later).

While it's a new phenomenon that a U.S. president owns hotels, if it were the Trump Hotel paying Justice Gorsuch, this might be a different story. But, it is a non-profit group, the Fund for American Studies, that is hosting the event. Additionally, Justice Gorsuch has asserted that he will not be collecting a fee for this speaking engagement.

The Secret Life of Supreme Court Justices

Well, it's not really a secret, actually. Supreme Court justices are frequently invited to speak at events, and are often handsomely compensated for doing so. Not only do the justices receive pay for speaking engagements, they are often put up in top notch accommodations and flown all over the world.

So long as the justices do not accept pay from litigants, or interested individuals, in cases before the Supreme Court, there really isn't any impropriety at all. However, justices are required to disclose their finances.

Supreme Conflicts of Interest

Though special interest groups frequently request justices recuse themselves from certain matters, generally, each justice decides for themselves whether they have a conflict of interest. As such, it is unlikely Justice Gorsuch would find he has a conflict of interest merely because a speaking event hosted by a non-profit group will be located in a hotel that happens to be owned by the president.

Particularly given that Justice Gorsuch does not stand to be financially compensated for the speaking engagement, it's even more unlikely that this would be considered a conflict. To put things in perspective, Justice Ginsberg called President Trump a "faker," and doesn't seem to have a conflict of interest with ruling on matters related to President Trump.

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