Speakers ribbed President Trump at the Federalist Society's annual review of the Supreme Court's recent term.
Trump worked extensively with the right-leaning legal organization's executive vice president, Leonard Leo, in picking judicial nominees and crafting the lists that led to Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. Leo took leave from the group while formally advising Trump. But the close working relationship of some Federalist Society members with the Trump administration did not stop the speakers at the right-leaning legal group's event from roasting the president Thursday.
Miguel Estrada, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner rumored to have been considered for the solicitor general position, blasted Trump onstage. Estrada described Trump as someone "who in the very short span of his administration has managed to upend any sense of normalcy or sanity that we are usually accustomed to."
"The alternative facts, the crowds, the covfefe, the tweets … the plastic surgery," Estrada said, listing his grievances with Trump. "But, hey, I did just mention Justice Gorsuch, right? And sort of somehow he did manage to stumble into an excellent Cabinet … and a lot of things are going very, very well when he's not tweeting."
Estrada continued to provide a review of the high court's recent term with punchlines jabbing Trump. Estrada described one event as happening "before Putin came around and was running our government" and later referred to 2005 audio of Trump bragging to then "Access Hollywood" host Billy Bush on a bus about using his celebrity status to sexually violate women. The audio, released in October, threatened to derail Trump's 2016 campaign shortly before he emerged victorious over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Douglas R. Cox, also a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and member of the Federalist Society's Washington chapter, introduced Estrada and drew laughs by deploying Trump's name.
"This year, things are looking up particularly compared to where we were at last year's roundup," Cox told the room of right-leaning lawyers and scholars. "Last year we were contemplating the impending Hillary Clinton presidency and all that would mean for the courts and the rule of law. This year, we are frolicking in the sunshine of the Trump presidency."
Loud laughter interrupted his remarks, causing him to pause.
"The colors are brighter, the air is fresher, and even the food tastes better. Instead of the fighting, mudslinging and ugliness of the inevitable second Clinton impeachment, now civility and decorum reign."
The laughs continued, but Cox trained his fire mostly on a different target: The New York Times. Cox lamented the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, as did Estrada, but noted, "We can savor the clarity and rigor of Justice Gorsuch's first opinions."
"The New York Times, of course, does not see Justice Gorsuch that way," Cox said. "A recent op-ed about the new justice was headlined, "Trump's life-tenured judicial avatar." Now that certainly sounds exciting. Had Justice Gorsuch body-slammed one of his colleagues? Had he labeled another justice's opinion 'fake law' or even commented on Justice Kennedy's failure to retire by tweeting one word: ‘sad'?
"Unfortunately, the Times headline promised far more than it delivered. What caught the writer's attention was simply that Justice Gorsuch turned out to be serious about text, the legislative process, and judicial interpretation as he had stated he was going to be during the confirmation process. As the writer observed, 'no real surprise there and no real news either.' And we all know what the opposite of real news is."
Leo, who did not attend the event, expressed embarassment in a statement to the Washington Examiner late Thursday.
"If there is anything that federalists should be grateful for in this administration, it is most certainly the seriousness with which President Trump has taken his obligation to appoint Supreme Court justices and federal judges committed to our Constitution as the framers meant it to be," Leo said. "In my opinion, that is a cause for celebration, not high school humor. Fortunately, our speakers at the Federalist Society speak for themselves and not the organization."
Looking toward the future and next term at the high court, the Federalist Society speakers sounded focused on whether Justice Anthony Kennedy may retire soon.
"Even though this year Justice Kennedy somehow concluded that the the right to define one's own concept of existence, meaning of the universe, and of the mystery of human life did not compel his retirement, there's always next year," Cox said.
* This article has been updated.