Senate Democrats to subpoena Supreme Court Justices’ wealthy benefactors

October 31, 2023

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee said Monday they plan to subpoena Republican donors Harlan Crow and Robin Arkley II, and conservative activist Leonard Leo on their funding luxury travel for Supreme Court Justices. 

Crow’s role as a benefactor of Justice Clarence Thomas has come under scrutiny over in recent months due to extensive investigative reporting by ProPublica starting in April.

According to the the non-profit news outlet, Thomas had not disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars in luxury vacations, real estate dealings and high-priced boarding school fees for his grandnephew from billionaire Crow.

Arkley and Leo, a Federalist Society executive who pressed former President Trump to move the Supreme Court further to the right, helped arrange a private jet trip to Alaska for Justice Samuel Alito in 2008. 

According to ProPublica, Alito’s Alaskan vacation also included a stay “at a luxury fishing lodge that charged more than $1,000 a day,” hosted by “hedge fund billionaire” Paul Singer—none of which Alito disclosed at the time.

The Senate Judiciary Committee could act as soon as next week to authorize Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) to subpoena Crow, Arkley and Leo.

A joint statement by Durbin and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted that Crow had previously “offered to produce certain limited information that fell well short of what the Committee needs and to which it is entitled.”

Crow’s office called the subpoena a “stunt” that is “undermining a sitting Supreme Court Justice for ideological and political purposes.”

Leo said in his own statement, “I will not bow to the vile and disgusting liberal McCarthyism that seeks to destroy the Supreme Court simply because it follows the Constitution rather than their political agenda.”

But at a time when the behavior of not just conservative Supreme Court Justices but liberal Justices as well have come under ethics scrutiny, Durbin has warned Chief Justice John Roberts to end the Supreme Court’s practice as virtually the only court in the U.S. operating without a formal code of ethics, or Congress will create a code for it.

Roberts has pushed back, insisting that he is “committed” to ensuring the nine Justices “adhere to the highest standards of conduct” and that they meet ethical obligations “that are consistent with our status as an independent branch of government under the Constitution’s separation of powers.”

In July, the Judiciary panel approved a bill that would set ethics rules for the Court, as well as a process to enforce them. It passed along party lines in the Democratic-majority committee, and Senate Republicans have united to “destroy” it in the full chamber. 

The Supreme Court began its latest term earlier this month under record disapproval ratings. According to a polling average from ABC News’ polling tracker 538, only 38% of Americans approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing while 54% disapprove. 

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