After receiving response to their May 26th letter, Durbin and Whitehouse say that “all options are on the table moving forward”
WASHINGTON – Today, 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 the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, Oversight, Agency Action, and Federal Rights, released the following statement after receiving a letter from a law firm representing Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow refusing to share key information regarding gifts and travel given to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The letter responds to Durbin and Whitehouse’s May 26th request for information, the second in a series of inquiries seeking information on the full extent of gifts, travel, and lodging given by Mr. Crow and several holding companies to Justice Thomas and any other Supreme Court Justices, as well as information about who else with interests before the Supreme Court may have received private, undisclosed access to Justices through this largesse.
“The latest correspondence from Harlan Crow’s lawyer is a clear, unwarranted refusal to cooperate with legitimate requests for information from this Committee. Harlan Crow is a Texas billionaire who has lavished hundreds of thousands of dollars in undisclosed gifts on Justice Thomas and his family. When asked to produce information about these gifts to inform Congress’s efforts to increase transparency and accountability at the Supreme Court, Crow puts forward a dangerous, undemocratic argument: that an individual can withhold information from Congress based on what he believes is in the best interest of the Supreme Court.
“Let’s be clear: Harlan Crow doesn’t call the shots here. He is not a branch – nor even a member – of government and cannot claim the protections and privileges of one. The Senate Judiciary Committee has clearly established oversight and legislative authority to assess and address the ethical crisis facing the Court. All options are on the table moving forward.
“One would think that Chief Justice Roberts and the other Justices would want to make a clean break from this sordid episode. They could do so today, but they haven’t. If the Court won’t act, Congress must. The highest court in the land shouldn’t have the lowest ethical standards.”
Durbin, Whitehouse, and Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats continue to work to deliver Supreme Court ethics reform.
In May, 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.
Additionally, 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.
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 10th, 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 10th letter was referred to the Judicial Conference and forwarded to the Judicial Conference Committee on Financial Disclosure.
Durbin and Whitehouse have been calling on the Supreme Court to adopt an enforceable code of conduct for more than a decade. They first sent a letter to the Chief Justice on this issue 11 years ago.
In addition, 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.