Updated Nov 30, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Senate panel subpoenas Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo in SCOTUS ethics probe

Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), right, speaks as ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) listens during the Senate Judiciary Committee markup hearing on Thursday, Nov. 30. Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to authorize subpoenas for conservative billionaire Harlan Crow and judicial activist Leonard Leo.

Why it matters: Republicans furiously opposed the subpoenas, which are part of the committee’s investigation into Supreme Court ethics. The panel has pursued more information after a series of reports uncovered luxury trips and lavish gifts that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted.

  • Most Republican senators on the panel ended up boycotting Thursday's vote after a heated back-and-forth with Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
  • All Democrats on the panel voted to authorize the subpoenas.

The backdrop: Democrats on the committee have been trying to impose a judicial code of ethics to strengthen financial disclosure requirements for Supreme Court justices since reports emerged of Thomas accepting undisclosed luxury vacations and other gifts from Crow.

  • The committee asked Crow and Leo for itemized lists of gifts, travel and lodging provided to Thomas, but their respective lawyers declined to turn over all the information and challenged the panel's authority.

What they're saying: "Both Leonard Leo and Harlan Crow are central players in this [Supreme Court] ethics crisis," Durbin said ahead of the vote.

  • "I do not seek this authorization lightly and do not ask for it often, but to protect Congress' authority and advance the committee's efforts to implement an enforceable code of conduct for the Supreme Court, it is necessary."

The other side: Leo signaled in a statement that he will not comply with the subpoena, setting up a potential legal fight with the committee.

  • "Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have been destroying the Supreme Court; now they are destroying the Senate," Leo said. "I will not cooperate with this unlawful campaign of political retribution."
  • Crow, who had offered to turn over some of the information the panel requested from the last five years, "remains willing to engage with the Committee in good faith," his office said.
  • "So far, Committee Democrats have been dismissive of Mr. Crow's good faith offer and unwilling to engage in constructive dialogue."

Editor's note: This story was updated with statements from Leo and Crow, as well as more details from Thursday's committee meeting.

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