Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the ethics revelations surrounding Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and the various controversies surrounding the high court are destroying its integrity.
“The conclusion most people would reach is that this tangled web around Justice Clarence Thomas just gets worse and worse by the day,” Durbin said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. “I don’t know what’s going to come up next. I thought I’d heard it all.”
Justice Clarence Thomas and the Supreme Court as a whole has been dogged by ethics concerns after ProPublica initially reported on Thomas’ relationship with billionaire and GOP megadonor Harlan Crow.
Durbin said the discoveries embarrass him but “the question is whether it embarasses the Supreme Court and the chief justice.”
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Clarence Thomas scandals reignite calls for Supreme Court code of ethics
The scandals have reignited calls for the nine justices on the Supreme Court to abide by a code of conduct. The Senate Judiciary Committee last Tuesday held a hearing on ethics reforms in the high court, where Democrats and Republicans sparred over whether Congress should act themselves to implement stronger ethics rules for the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court has no code of conduct, unlike the courts below it, which requires lower federal court judges to follow a code of ethics to “avoid all impropriety and appearance of impropriety.”
Durbin requested Chief Justice John Roberts to voluntarily testify before the committee in April, but Roberts declined the invitation, citing concerns about the separation of powers.
“Chief Justice Roberts has the power in his hands to change this first thing tomorrow morning. He could announce a code of conduct for the court and finally mean something,” Durbin said. “He can even announce that the court will be subject to at least the minimum standards that apply to all federal judges.”
Durbin vowed that “everything is on the table” which could include subpoenaing Crow and other figures in the ethics scandals in his committee’s future work.
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Durbin on Clarence Thomas discoveries: ‘It just destroys the integrity of the court’
The Supreme Court has been under intense scrutiny after revelations about Thomas’ relationship with Crow, which initially started with findings that Thomas accepted multiple lavish gifts from Crow, including travel on his private jet and yacht. Thomas failed to disclose these gifts in a possible violation of federal disclosure laws.
Crow also purchased three Georgia properties from Thomas and his family members in 2014 and paid for the private boarding school tuition of Thomas’ grandnephew, both of which Thomas did not disclose, ProPublica reported.
The ethics controversies extends to Thomas’ wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas, a prominent conservative activist. A conservative legal activist, Leonard Leo, arranged tens of thousands of dollars of payments for consulting work to Ginni Thomas over a decade ago and instructed for her name to be left off of paperwork, The Washington Post reported last Thursday.
“You shouldn’t have that sort of thing happening at the highest court of America. It just destroys the integrity of the court,” Durbin said of the discoveries.
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