The controversy remained outside Trump International Hotel on Thursday afternoon. Inside, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch delivered a tribute to civility and free speech to a conservative education nonprofit.
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 Donald Trump’s companies improperly benefit the man who nominated Gorsuch to the court earlier this year.
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 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 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.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Robert Barnes