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Senate Judiciary Committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

Senate Judiciary to vote on subpoenas for Harlan Crow, others

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to authorize subpoenas as part of a Democratic-led investigation into the Supreme Court’s ethics guidelines, Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) announced Monday evening.

The panel will vote as soon as next Thursday, Nov. 9, on subpoenas for three GOP activists linked to Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, who stand accused of violating ethics rules governing financial disclosures.

All three subpoena targets — Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo and Robin Arkley II — have been in the crosshairs of the committee’s months-long probe centering on the justices’ failure to disclose gifts from individuals who could have interests before the Supreme Court.

The announcement Monday marks a significant acceleration of the panel’s efforts on judicial ethics reform.

“The Supreme Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making,” Durbin and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said in a joint statement announcing the upcoming subpoena votes.

“Thanks to investigative reporting,” the Democratic senators added, “we now know that for decades, some justices have been joining billionaires with business before the Court on their private planes and yachts or receiving gifts such as private school tuition for a family member.”

The Democrats’ efforts on judicial ethics, however, have received zero buy-in from Republicans, who see the probe as a way for Democrats to undermine and delegitimize the court’s conservative majority.

Democrats say it’s a necessary check on the high court. Earlier this year, the Judiciary Committee passed legislation forcing the Supreme Court to impose a code of conduct. The bill doesn’t have enough support to clear the 60-vote threshold on the floor.

“The Chief Justice could fix this problem today and adopt a binding code of conduct,” Durbin and Whitehouse added. “As long as he refuses to act, the Judiciary Committee will.”

With full Democratic attendance, the Judiciary Committee will be able to approve the subpoenas. Durbin and Whitehouse said it was imperative that senators learn “the full extent of how people with interests before the court are able to use undisclosed gifts to gain private access to the justices.”

According to Democrats, the three men haven’t provided sufficient information to the committee about their relationships with Thomas and Alito. Much of this was revealed publicly earlier this year by ProPublica and other media outlets.

Crow’s office sent us a statement late Monday night that called the subpoena efforts “unnecessary, partisan and politically motivated.”

“We offered extensive information responsive to the Committee’s requests despite the serious constitutional and privacy concerns presented to the Committee, which were ignored and remain unaddressed,” the statement reads. “Mr. Crow, a private citizen, won’t be bullied by threats from politicians. However, as previously conveyed to the Committee, we remain committed to respectful cooperation and a fair resolution.”

Leo, a longtime conservative activist involved in pushing conservative judicial nominations, said in a statement that “I will not bow to vile and disgusting liberal McCarthyism that seeks to destroy the Supreme Court because it follows the Constitution rather than their political agenda.”

Leo’s lawyers sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee on Oct. 19 objecting to Durbin’s requests for more information on Leo’s activities tied to the Supreme Court.

— Andrew Desiderio

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