On Senate Floor, Durbin Reiterates Need to Authorize Subpoenas Related to Supreme Court Ethics Reform

Senate Judiciary Committee scheduled to vote to authorize issuing these subpoenas as soon as Thursday, November 9

WASHINGTON – In a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, discussed his announcement last week that the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote to authorize issuing subpoenas as it relates to the Judiciary Committee’s Supreme Court ethics investigation.  These votes in Committee could take place as soon as Thursday.

“I do not make this decision lightly.  Seeking authorization to issue subpoenas is a relatively rare occurrence in the Committee.  So today I come to the floor for a few minutes to explain why we’ve taken this significant step,” Durbin said.  “Over the last several months, it’s become clear that the Supreme Court is in desperate need of a binding code of ethics as we learn of lavish gifts and luxury travel that certain Supreme Court justices have accepted from a gaggle of fawning billionaires.”

Durbin went on to describe the lavish gifts to Supreme Court justices that Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo have facilitated over the years and how the justices have failed to disclose them.  He also outlined the letters that the Committee has sent to a number of billionaires, activists, and organizations connected to these undisclosed gifts and travel since May.

“When referring to the cascade of gifts from Harlan Crow to Justice Thomas, the former chief White House ethics lawyer for Republican President George W. Bush said, ‘This is way outside the norm.  This is way in excess of anything I’ve seen.’  And renowned conservative jurist, Judge J. Michael Luttig, stated in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, ‘The Supreme Court should want to lead by the example that only it can set.  It should want to conduct itself in its non-judicial activities in all ways such that it is beyond reproach.’  Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has not lived up to this expectation,” Durbin said. “That’s why our Senate Judiciary Committee is exercising its constitutional authority to investigate.”

Durbin continued, “Months ago, I, along with my Democratic colleagues on the Committee, sent letters to Crow, Arkley and Leo, among others, seeking details about what exactly has been provided to Supreme Court justices. Our goal has been to understand how specific individuals and groups with business before the Court have used undisclosed gifts to gain private access to justices—access not afforded to others.”

Durbin concluded, “The fact that we have to go to this length is unacceptable, but necessary. The Senate and the American people deserve to know the full extent of how billionaires with interest before the Court use their immense wealth to buy private access to our Supreme Court.  That’s why on Thursday, the Judiciary Committee will vote to authorize subpoenas for these individuals.  The vote is a critical step in the Committee’s exercise of its constitutional right and duty to conduct oversight of the federal judiciary. It is critical to the Committee’s effort to restore the Court’s reputation.  The highest court in the land should not have the lowest standard of ethics.”

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.

In July, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act to the full Senate.  The bill would require Supreme Court Justices to adopt a code of conduct, create a mechanism to investigate alleged violations of the code of conduct and other laws, improve disclosure and transparency when a Justice has a connection to a party or amicus before the Court, and require Justices to explain their recusal decisions to the public.

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