Senate Democrats slammed Justice Clarence Thomas on Tuesday amid reports that the Supreme Court governor failed to disclose luxury travel, gifts and a real estate deal involving a GOP donor, but their plan to investigate the conservative justice remains unclear.
Senate Judiciary Chief Dick Durbin promised his committee would hold a hearing on alleged ethics violations in the coming weeks, but he didn’t share any details when pressed by CNN about whether lawmakers would seek testimony from Thomas or others who might have knowledge of his affair. With the donor, Texas-based billionaire Harlan Crowe.
Asked if subpoenas are on the table, Durbin said no decision has been made on that yet. He said it was “too early” to share more information about what his committee’s hearing on Supreme Court ethics might look like. He and other judicial Democrats sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts last week asking him to open an investigation into Thomas’ allegations.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that “the American people deserve all the facts about Judge Thomas’ flagrant violation of the law.”
“I hope that [Thomas] He will appear voluntarily, and if not, we should consider a subpoena for him and others, such as Harlan Crowe, who have information,” Blumenthal said.
Other Democrats on the committee said Tuesday they defer to Durbin, who met with Democrats Monday night to discuss their strategy toward Thomas.
Meanwhile, Republicans seem mostly united in defending Thomas, suggesting the court can handle its own affairs.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell attacked Democrats for criticizing the court, and said he trusted Roberts to “handle these internal court issues.”
“It seems to me that Democrats have spent a lot of time criticizing members of the court and going after them as an institution,” McConnell told reporters on Tuesday.
Bringing more transparency to the Supreme Court has had some bipartisan support in the past, but the court’s tilt to the right — particularly with the three justices appointed to the bench by former President Donald Trump — has raised the partisan stakes on the issue. In recent years, conservative majorities have dealt with pivotal provisions that scrapped abortion rights, dismantled gun regulations, and curbed the powers of executive agencies — all of which have angered Democrats.
Although Senate Democrats have not yet settled on a plan for their response to Thomas’ allegations, they have sought to highlight the issue and place it within their broader push for a Supreme Court code of ethics, which has been left out of many of the ethical rules that apply to the lower levels. from the federal judiciary.
“I am troubled by recent reports detailing potentially unethical behavior — even potentially illegal behavior — at the highest levels of our judiciary,” Sen. Alex Padilla, a California Democrat, said at a Judiciary Committee hearing of three lower court nominees Tuesday. . “We must not say that judges at all levels must be held to strict and enforceable ethical standards.”
Durbin said in a speech that Congress should not wait for the court to act.
“The Supreme Court does not need to wait for Congress to clean up its act; the justices can take action today if they want to, and if the court fails to act, then Congress must,” Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on the Senate floor Tuesday.
Back-to-back reporting in ProPublica this month detailed how luxury travel and gifts to Thomas from the Crow — and even a real estate deal — went unreported in Thomas’ annual financial disclosures.
Thomas said the travel and gifts given to him and his family that were funded by the Crows were not reported because he had been advised he was not required to do so, under an exception in the court’s disclosure rules for so-called “personal hospitality”. After scrutiny of those rules by lawmakers, the Judicial Conference — which serves as the policy-making body for the federal judiciary — recently closed a loophole in those rules that appears to have covered some of the hospitality Thomas has received. Thomas said he intends to follow this updated guidance in the future, he said. A source close to Justice told CNN in recent days that he plans to amend his disclosure form to report the real estate deal, and the sale of his mother’s home to Crow.
“If the reporting is accurate, it stinks,” Sen. Mitt Romney said Monday night, in rare comments from a Republican criticizing Thomas’ lack of transparency.
Other Republicans lined up to defend justice – who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President George HW Bush in 1991 – and said it was not the place for Congress to push a code of ethics to the Supreme Court.
Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican on the Judiciary Committee, suggested that the charges against Thomas were part of “a multi-decade effort now to target Clarence Thomas by these liberal activist groups.”
This isn’t the first time Thomas has been at the center of a morality controversy. Last year, CNN reported that his wife, Jenny Thomas, a conservative activist, had been texting with Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the former president’s efforts to overturn his defeat in the 2020 election, and her political lobbying has long raised questions about when justices will be obligated. To extricate themselves from the issues.
However, Republicans have shown little interest in joining Democrats in using legislation to impose a moral code on judges.
The whip was said by South Dakota Sen. John Thune, a Republican, who said Thomas has been “a solid court justice over the years and has acquitted himself very well there.”
“Let’s see what the court does,” South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN on Tuesday. “I prefer them to do it internally.”