The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday walked back a planned vote to subpoena two megadonors connected to Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. The reason? Republicans threw a fit.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee finally took the first step last week to address the high court’s ethics crisis and announced they would 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 Thomas and Alito. The committee said it would also seek to subpoena wealthy GOP donor Robin Arkley II.
But Chair Dick Durbin appeared to put that all on hold on Thursday, when he abruptly ended a committee meeting after outraged Republicans threatened to retaliate if Crow and Leo were subpoenaed.
Committee Republicans threatened to file multiple amendments relating to border security, social media use, and liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor in opposition to attempts to investigate conservative justices and donors.
“You’re going to have a complete shitshow, but if that’s what you want, that’s what you’re gonna get,” Senator Lindsey Graham warned.
Senator Josh Hawley accused Democrats of orchestrating a “witch hunt” against Thomas.
Durbin backed down and told reporters the committee may try again next week to vote on the subpoenas.
Judiciary Democrats’ spineless response is disappointing, to say the least. Other attempts to rein in the high court and establish a formal code of ethics have stalled. Meanwhile, confidence in the Supreme Court as an institution is rapidly sinking over the ethics scandal.
Crow, a 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 had disclosed any of these lavish gifts on their financial statements.