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Durbin Statement on Response from Harlan Crow Regarding Gifts & Travel Given to Justice Thomas

Earlier this month, Judiciary Committee Dems sent letters to Mr. Crow and the holding companies that own his private jet, private yacht, and Topridge Camp

SPRINGFIELD – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, today released the following statement after receiving a letter from a law firm representing Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow in response to letters all Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats sent to Mr. Crow and the holding companies that own his private jet, private yacht, and Topridge Camp earlier this month.  To inform the Committee’s effort to pass Supreme Court ethics reform legislation, the letters sought to identify the full extent of Mr. Crow’s and the corporations’ gifts to Justice Thomas, what other individuals were able to gain special access to Justice Thomas and any other Justices via the travel and lodging provided, and whether those individuals had interests before the Supreme Court. 

“The letter that the Committee received last night from a law firm representing Harlan Crow did not provide a credible justification for the failure of Mr. Crow and three corporate entities to respond to the Committee’s written questions.  First of all, the Committee did not receive individual responses from anyone representing the three companies.  That is untenable since the gifts and access to Justices that these companies provided are highly relevant to the Committee’s legislative efforts on ethics reform.

“Second, the letter claims that Congress lacks authority to enact ethics legislation that applies to Supreme Court Justices—a claim belied by multiple Congressionally-enacted ethics laws that Chief Justice Roberts highlighted as applying to Supreme Court Justices in his April 25 ‘Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices.’

“Further, Mr. Crow’s letter relies on a separation of powers defense when Mr. Crow does not work, and has never worked, for the Supreme Court.

“Harlan Crow believes the secrecy of his lavish gifts to Justice Thomas is more important than the reputation of the highest court of law in this land.  He is wrong.

“The Committee will respond more fully to this letter in short order, and will continue to seek a substantive response to our information requests in order to craft and advance the targeted ethics legislation needed to help restore trust in the Supreme Court.  As I’ve said many times before: The Chief Justice has the power to establish a credible, enforceable code of conduct for the Court today.  However, if the Court will not act, this Committee will.”

Last week, the Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights held a hearing entitled “Review of Federal Judicial Ethics Processes at the Judicial Conference of the United States,” featuring the testimony of the Honorable Mark L. Wolf, Senior U.S. District Judge for the District of Massachusetts.  Durbin’s opening statement from the hearing is available here.

Earlier this month, the Judiciary Committee held a full committee hearing entitled, “Supreme Court Ethics Reform.”  The hearing emphasized the clear need for reform and examined common sense proposals to hold Justices to – at minimum – the same ethical standards as every other federal judge or high-ranking official in the federal government.  Durbin’s opening statement from the hearing is available here and his questions for the witnesses are available here.

Durbin invited Chief Justice John Roberts, or another Justice whom the Chief Justice designated, to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee at the May 2nd hearing.  The Chief Justice declined to appear.  In his letter declining Durbin’s invitation, the Chief Justice attached a “Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices” that raised more questions than it answered.

On April 10, Durbin and his Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic colleagues sent a letter to the Chief Justice urging him to take swift action to address reported conduct by Justices that is inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of public servants.  Durbin received a response letter from the Secretary of the Judicial Conference of the United States and it stated that the Senators’ April 10 letter was referred to the Judicial Conference and forwarded to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure.

Durbin has been calling on the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for more than a decade.  He first sent a letter to the Chief Justice on this issue 11 years ago.