Durbin Fires Back After Harlan Crow Refuses To Voluntarily Cooperate With Information Requests Regarding Gifts To Justice Thomas

In speech on the Senate floor, Durbin repudiates Crow’s claim to separation of powers protections, makes clear “all options are on the table to acquire information”

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, fired back 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. 

“Sadly, he [Harlan Crow]'s made it clear that he refuses to voluntarily cooperate. Harlan Crow has based this refusal on a dangerous, undemocratic argument that information requests of him about these gifts infringe on the separation of powers between Congress and the Court. This argument is baseless,” said Durbin.

Durbin outlined the Committee’s clear oversight and legislative authority on this issue: “Good news for Harlan Crow: if you check with your lawyers, they will inform you that you are not a branch of government. You are a private citizen. You cannot declare that you're standing up for the Supreme Court and refuse to cooperate with Congress, and that's exactly what he is doing … The Senate Judiciary Committee has clearly established authority to conduct oversight over the ethical crisis of the Court's own making and to legislate as needed to address it. Let me be clear: all options are on the table to acquire information.”

Durbin also responded to press reports of Crow’s attorney, Michael Bopp, making a one-sentence offer to meet: “I read it [the letter] for a third time. I wondered how I missed that. Well, turns out it's the final sentence in the letter … ‘Please feel free to have your staff contact me with any questions concerning this response and set up a time to further discuss your request.’ … That, I suppose, is the offer to meet. I’m not going to turn it down. We are going to meet with him, if he wishes to, to discuss this further.”

Durbin concluded by highlighting the importance of restoring the American people’s trust in the Supreme Court and calling for an enforceable code of ethics: “The Roberts Court has the authority this afternoon, before 5 o’clock, to announce a resolution and resolve this issue once and forever … to put a code of ethics and a standard of ethical conduct in place that will bring this Court into the same world of reality as the rest of the courts in the United States. The American people need to have confidence in this Court, and hiding gifts of hundreds of thousands of dollars, not disclosing them, and paying no price when they're finally discovered is not the way to convince the American people that the Court is credible.” 

The letter from Crow’s attorney responds to Senators 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. 

Video of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin 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.