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Durbin, Whitehouse Send Follow Up Letter to Harlan Crow Seeking Full Information on Gifts, Travel, and Access Given to Supreme Court Justices

After a law firm representing Crow sent an inadequate letter in response to May 8th requests, Durbin and Whitehouse continue to press for key information

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Chair of Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, today sent a follow up letter to Republican megadonor Harlan Crow seeking to identify the full extent of Mr. Crow’s gifts of travel and lodging to Justice Clarence Thomas, which other individuals were able to gain personal and private 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 Senators’ letter rejects Crow’s claimed justifications for initially refusing to provide this information, pointing out that Crow’s May 22 letter fails to recognize Congress’s clearly-established legislative and oversight authority and improperly tries to invoke separation of powers, a doctrine that is implicated when Congress requests information from coordinate branches of government, not from private individuals like Crow. 

In addition to the letter to Crow, Durbin and Whitehouse sent follow up letters to the holding companies that own Crow’s private jet, private yacht, and Topridge Camp.  Today’s letter follows the May 8th letters all Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats sent to those entities.

Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee received a response to the May 8th letters from a law firm representing Harlan Crow.  The response did not provide a credible justification for the failure of Mr. Crow and three corporate entities to respond to the Committee’s written questions. Further, in light of Crow mixing his personal largesse with his use of corporate-owned property, the lack of individual responses by the holding companies, which are separate legal entities, is without merit.  In Durbin and Whitehouse’s letter today, they rebut each argument cited in Crow’s response letter and request Crow’s response to the information requests by June 5th.  

“This letter follows up on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s May 8, 2023, request for information in your possession that is highly relevant to the Committee’s ongoing efforts to craft judicial ethics reform legislation. Investigative reporting has exposed serious shortcomings in the ethical standards that apply to Supreme Court justices and has highlighted ethical lapses by justices that the American people would not tolerate from any public servant, let alone a justice on the nation’s highest Court,” wrote Durbin and Whitehouse. “Chief Justice Roberts could take action today to help restore trust in the Court by adopting binding ethics reforms, including a credible, transparent, and enforceable code of conduct for the justices. However, he has repeatedly declined to do so, and in the face of this lack of accountability, public confidence in the Court continues to plummet. Consequently, Congress must act to ensure the highest Court in the land does not continue to have the lowest ethical standards.”

“In your letter dated May 22, 2023, you declined to provide the information the Committee requested to inform its legislative efforts in these areas. Your explanation rested on a flawed assessment of Congress’s Article I oversight authority; a cramped reading of Congress’s constitutional authority to legislate in the area of government ethics; and a wholly misplaced view of the separation of powers, a doctrine that is implicated when Congress requests information from coordinate branches of government, not private individuals. You also repeatedly conflated personal hospitality with the use of corporate-owned property, which highlights one of the key issues the Committee seeks to address through legislation. We respond below to your contentions, and request that you provide the information sought in our May 8 letter no later than June 5, 2023,” the Senators continued.


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 and Whitehouse’s is 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.

Whitehouse has engaged in a longstanding oversight effort to ensure transparency and accountability in the federal judiciary, which recently led the Judicial Conference to clarify the very financial disclosure rule Justice Thomas is now accused of abusing.  Whitehouse has also introduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, a comprehensive, bicameral bill that would impose more rigorous ethical standards at the Supreme Court and establish a meaningful enforcement process.

Full text of the letter to Mr. Crow is available here.

Full text of the letter to the entity that owns Topridge Camp is available here.

Full text of the letter to the entity that owns the Michaela Rose yacht is available here.

Full text of the letter to the entity that owns Mr. Crow’s private plane is available here.