Republican senators are up in arms over an effort by Democrats to subpoena billionaire Harlan Crowe and conservative activist Leonard Leo over their ties to luxury travel and gifts accepted by Supreme Court justices.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to subpoena the conservatives after consideration of several judicial nominees. Chairman Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in his opening remarks the subpoenas are “key pieces of our legislative effort to establish an effective code of conduct” for the Supreme Court.
“I don’t buy anything you just said,” Ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., replied. “Let’s just be real blunt and direct: This is garbage.”
Democrats have long sought to cross-examine Crow, a Republican megadonor, and Leo, the vice president of the Federal Society, as part of an ethics probe into allegations that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito failed to disclose luxury vacations paid for by the conservatives, their friends.
Thursday’s vote comes weeks after the Supreme Court issued a new “Code of Conduct” in response to months of heightened scrutiny from Democratic lawmakers and news reports. Durbin said the self-imposed ethics code “falls far short” and urged Congress to impose more rigorous standards on the high court.
Republicans have panned Democrat-sponsored legislation, the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency (SCERT) Act, as a “court-killing machine” that would “destroy the legitimacy of the conservative court.” They argue that federal judges are already bound to an ethics code, including Supreme Court justices, and that an act of Congress on the judiciary would unconstitutionally infringe on a separate and co-equal branch of government.
Ahead of the hearing, GOP senators introduced more than 170 amendments in what Durbin told reporters was an attempt to delay the subpoenas.
“It’s an indication that they’re determined to delay any opportunity to serve a subpoena on Leonard Leo and others who are engaged in this,” Durbin said. “I just think they are afraid, very afraid that there was information that could be controversial and harmful.”
But Republicans lambasted the Democrat-led effort as political theater. “I call it subpoena palooza,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., told reporters outside the hearing room.
Graham challenged Democrats, saying that if they were serious about the allegations against Thomas and Alito, they would bring the SCERT Act up for a vote. “Why hasn’t the majority leader brought up the bill that all of y’all voted for to fix this problem?” he demanded, later supplying that Democrats won’t advance the bill because it lacks enough support to pass in the Senate.
“I don’t know who’s driving the train on your side, but you’re driving the committee off into a ditch,” Graham added, calling the subpoena vote a “joke.”
Fox News’ Tyler Olson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.