In one of the lamest government-ethics stories ever to grace the front page of The Washington Post, Supreme Court reporter Robert Barnes offered an article/attack on new Justice Neil Gorsuch speaking at the University of Louisville alongside Mitch McConnell. The headline was “’Victory Lap’? Gorsuch’s critics cry foul over speeches.” Barnes said it raised questions about Gorsuch's "independence from the Republicans who supported him in a highly partisan confirmation hearing."
They also forwarded complaints Gorsuch would speak at a lunch at the Trump International Hotel before the Fund for American Studies. (Disclosure: MRC has accepted interns from the Fund.)
The Pennsylvania Avenue hotel is at the center of a lawsuit on whether commercial payments to Trump’s companies improperly profit the president.
And in November, the newest justice will be the keynote speaker at the annual gala of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal society that supplied Trump with a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, including Gorsuch.
This is where the story gets laughable. It's bad enough that ideological groups like NARAL and Planned Parenthood are circulating a letter about Gorsuch undermining the court's legitimacy in a time of "ruthlessly ideological divisions." Barnes explains that Gorsuch defenders argue that liberal justices often speak to liberal groups, like the American Constitution Society, established as a liberal version of the Federalist Society. In fact, Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke to the ACS convention in 2015….and we know because Robert Barnes and the Post reported it…except it wasn’t an ethical problem in any way.
It was a little 500-word dispatch on page A-3 on July 15, 2015 with the bland headline “Ginsburg holds court over rights.”
Those who came to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's appearance at the American Constitution Society's convention Saturday night looking for clues about how the court would decide its important remaining cases didn't find much more than this:
She certainly seemed in a good mood.
The Supreme Court in the next two weeks will announce whether the Affordable Care Act survives a challenge to the subsidies that millions of people use to purchase health insurance, and whether gay couples have a legal right to marry nationwide.
In a gentle interview with her former law clerk and now California Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu, there was no discussion of Obamacare.
At the 2014 ACS convention, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor appeared. But now ACS types say it's "campaigning" for Gorsuch to do the same thing.
Barnes filed a new Ginsburg story in the same news cycle as his Gorsuch story. While he suggested it was somehow too political for Gorsuch to speak next to McConnell or before conservative groups, Ginsburg blabbed away in a gushy PBS interview at the 92nd Street Y in New York that sexism was a “major, major reason” for Hillary Clinton losing the 2016 election.
These partisan appearances don't seem to raise "questions" about "independence" from "critics." Attacking Trump and his voters publicly is not "campaigning." Barnes and the Post just look like they're channeling Democratic spin.
PS: The Post website also carried a Jessica Kresko AP dispatch on this pseudo-controversy under the headline "Gorsuch appears at Trump hotel, liberal groups cry foul." Meanwhile, these are the kinds of AP stories Kresko & Co. offered for Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
-- "Ginsburg encourages young women to wage inspiring fights"
-- "Justice Ginsburg rides celebrity wave, releases anthology:"
-- "Meet America's latest fitness star: Ruth Bader Ginsburg"