Senate Democrats blasted Judge Clarence Thomas on Tuesday after reports that Supreme Court conservatives failed to disclose lavish travel, gifts and real estate deals involving big Republican donors, but they investigated the conservative jurist’s allegations. Plans remain unclear.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin promised his committee would hold hearings on the alleged ethics violations in the coming weeks, but pressed on CNN whether lawmakers would ask Thomas or anyone else who might have knowledge of his relationship He did not disclose any details when seeking testimony. Donor, Texas billionaire Harlan Crow.
Asked whether a subpoena was on the table, Durbin said no decision had been made on that. He said it was “premature” to share more information about what his committee’s hearings on Supreme Court ethics will look like. He and other judicial Democrats sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts last week calling on him to open an investigation into Thomas’ allegations.
Mori. “The American people deserve to know all the facts about Justice Thomas’ flagrant violations,” Judiciary Committee member Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, told reporters Tuesday.
“I hope so [Thomas] Will show up voluntarily, and if not, we should consider subpoenaing him and others, like Harlan Crow, who have information,” Blumenthal said.
Other Democrats on the committee said Tuesday they would heed to Durbin, who huddled with Democrats on Monday night to discuss their strategy with Thomas.
Republicans, meanwhile, appear mostly united in defending Thomas, suggesting the courts can take care of their own business.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Democrats for criticizing the court and said he was confident in Roberts “handling these internal court issues.”
“In my view, Democrats spend a lot of time criticizing individual members of the Supreme Court and attacking the Court as an institution,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday.
Increased transparency on the high court has had some bipartisan support in the past, but the court’s shift to the right — notably former President Donald Trump’s benching of three justices — has boosted partisan interest around the issue . In recent years, the conservative majority has handled key rulings that have repealed abortion rights, rolled back gun control and reined in executive branch agency power — all of which have drawn outcry from Democrats.
Even if Senate Democrats haven’t yet laid out plans for their own response to Thomas’ allegations, they’re trying to highlight the issue and include it in their broader push to create an ethics code for the Supreme Court, which many have excluded from applying Ethics rules at lower levels of the federal judiciary.
“I am troubled by recent reports detailing potentially unethical behavior — even potentially illegal behavior at the highest levels of our judiciary,” the senator said. Alex Padilla, D-Calif., said during a Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday against three lower court nominees. “It goes without saying that judges at all levels are expected to adhere to strict and enforceable ethical standards.”
In a speech, Durbin said Congress should not wait for the courts to act.
“The Supreme Court doesn’t need to wait for Congress to clean up its act; Durbin, the Illinois Democrat, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that judges can act today if they want, and if the court doesn’t act, Congress must act.
A string of ProPublica reports this month detailed how Thomas’s lavish trips and gifts — even real estate transactions — from Crow were not reported in Thomas’s annual financial disclosures.
Thomas said the Crows funded travel and gifts for him and his family were not reported because he was told he didn’t need to, under an exemption from the court’s disclosure rules for so-called “personal entertainment” before lawmakers review those rules Finally, the Judiciary Conference — the decision-making arm of the federal judiciary — recently closed a loophole in those rules that appeared to cover some of Thomas’s hospitality. Thomas said he intends to follow the updated guidance in the future, A source close to the Justice Department also told CNN in recent days that he plans to amend his disclosure forms to report the real estate transaction, selling his mother’s house to Crowe.
“It’s too bad if the report is accurate,” the senator said. It was a rare comment from a Republican criticizing Thomas for his lack of transparency, Mitt Romney said Monday night.
Other Republicans have come forward to defend justice — he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 — and say Congress has no authority to impose a code of ethics on the high court.
Mori. Josh Hawley, the Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, said the charges against Thomas were “part of a decades-long effort by these groups of liberal activists now to target Clarence Thomas.”
This isn’t the first time Thomas has been at the center of an ethical controversy. Last year, CNN reported that his wife, Ginny Thomas, a conservative activist, was texting with Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows about the former president’s 2020 campaign to oust him. 2018 election defeat, and her political lobbying has long raised questions about when justices are obliged to recuse themselves from cases.
Republicans, however, have shown no interest in joining Democrats in using legislation to impose a code of ethics on justices.
“I think historically, the courts have kind of self-regulated,” said the South Dakota senator. Republican Senate Whip John Thune said Thomas “has been a reliable judge on the court for many years and has been a He did well in court.”
“Let’s see what the courts do,” the South Carolina senator said. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN on Tuesday. “I prefer that they do it internally.”