Senate Democrats have finally taken the first steps to address the ethics crisis rocking the Supreme Court.
The Senate Judiciary Committee announced Monday that it will seek to subpoena Republican billionaire megadonor Harlan Crow and ultraconservative activist Leonard Leo. Both men feature prominently in the ethics scandal for their relationships with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The committee will also seek to subpoena wealthy GOP donor Robin Arkley II.
“The Supreme Court is in an ethical crisis of its own making,” the committee said in a statement. “In order to adequately address this crisis, it is imperative that we understand the full extent of how people with interests before the Court are able to use undisclosed gifts to gain private access to the justices.”
All three men have so far either refused to cooperate with the committee’s investigation or offered to share an insufficient amount of information. The committee could authorize the subpoenas after a vote as soon as next week.
Crow, a Republican billionaire megadonor and Nazi memorabilia collector, has repeatedly lavished Thomas with expensive gifts. These include island-hopping yacht vacations, private school tuition for Thomas’s nephew, and buying and renovating a Thomas family property, where Thomas’s mother still lives.
Thomas has also been Crow’s guest at Bohemian Grove, which ProPublica describes as a “secretive all-men’s retreat in Northern California” that attracts major corporate and political players. It costs thousands of dollars for a member to bring a guest to the Grove, but Crow has reportedly brought Thomas there almost every year for the past two decades.
Thomas’s visits to the Grove helped him develop a relationship with the Koch brothers. Thomas has participated in events for the Koch donor network for at least a decade. All of his appearances were arranged with the help of dark-money king Leo.
In addition to securing Thomas’s goodwill, Leo also helped organize a luxury vacation that Alito went on. Neither Thomas nor Alito have disclosed any of these lavish gifts on their financial statements.
The Supreme Court does not have a formal code of ethics. Since the Thomas and Alito scandals broke, many people have called on the court to establish an ethics code to help prevent such situations in the future. Six of the justices have resisted such a move, with Alito being one of the most vocal. But Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh have all backed implementing such a code.
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced a bill in midsummer that would require the justices to adopt a code of ethics, create new financial disclosure rules, and establish a process for submitting and investigating ethics complaints against the justices. But the bill has not yet gone up for debate, and it will have a hard time passing the chamber, where Democrats have only a razor-thin majority.