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    Padilla, Durbin, Senate Judiciary Democrats Urge Chief Justice Roberts to Investigate Justice Thomas’ Undisclosed Gifts and Take Action to Prevent Further Misconduct

    The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards

    U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and all Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts calling on him to investigate a ProPublica report that Justice Clarence Thomas accepted and failed to disclose 20 years’ worth of lavish gifts and luxury travel from prominent Republican donor Harlan Crow.

    In the letter, the senators announce that the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards. The letter notes that Judiciary Committee Democrats previously wrote Chief Justice Roberts in 2012 urging that the Court adopt a resolution binding the Justices to the same Code of Conduct that binds all other federal judges, but Chief Justice Roberts refused. This 2012 letter was sent amid earlier public reports of Justice Thomas’s acceptance of favors from Mr. Crow, conduct that escalated after the Court’s refusal to act. The letter notes that Chief Justice Roberts does not need to wait for Congress to act to ensure that the Justices abide by ethical standards that bind other federal judges, but said that if the Chief Justice fails to address the matter, the Committee will take up legislation to resolve it.

    The Senators wrote, “The Senate Judiciary Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over Federal courts and judges, has a role to play in ensuring that the nation’s highest court does not have the federal judiciary’s lowest ethical standards. You have a role to play as well, both in investigating how such conduct could take place at the Court under your watch, and in ensuring that such conduct does not happen again. We urge you to immediately open such an investigation and take all needed action to prevent further misconduct.”

    “It is troubling that your 2011 year-end report, which dismissed the call for the Justices to adopt the Code of Conduct, was written notwithstanding the known concerns about Mr. Crow’s largesse. This problem could have been resolved then. Instead, according to ProPublica’s reporting, Mr. Crow’s dispensation of favors escalated in secret during the years that followed. Now the Court faces a crisis of public confidence in its ethical standards that must be addressed,” they continued. “In the coming days, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards. And if the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it.  But you do not need to wait for Congress to act to undertake your own investigation into the reported conduct and to ensure that it cannot happen again.”

    In addition to Padilla and Durbin, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.).

    Full text of the letter is available here and below:

    Dear Chief Justice Roberts:

    We write regarding the April 6, 2023 report by ProPublica entitled “Clarence Thomas and the Billionaire.”  The report describes conduct by a sitting Justice that he did not disclose to the public and that is plainly inconsistent with the ethical standards the American people expect of any person in a position of public trust.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee, which has legislative jurisdiction over Federal courts and judges, has a role to play in ensuring that the nation’s highest court does not have the federal judiciary’s lowest ethical standards.  You have a role to play as well, both in investigating how such conduct could take place at the Court under your watch, and in ensuring that such conduct does not happen again.  We urge you to immediately open such an investigation and take all needed action to prevent further misconduct.

    This is not the first time that members of this Committee have written you regarding concerns over the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.  Eleven years ago, several members of the Committee, including the current Chair, sent you the attached letter urging the Court to adopt a resolution stating that the Justices of the Court abide by the Judicial Conference’s Code of Conduct for United States Judges—a Code that binds every other judge in the federal judiciary.  You responded that the Court “does not plan to adopt the Code of Conduct for United States Judges through a formal resolution,” and referenced your 2011 Year-End Report, in which you said “the Court has had no reason to adopt the Code of Conduct as its definitive source of ethical guidance.”  We submit that the Court has compelling reasons to do so, and urge prompt adoption of the Code of Conduct.  While last month’s revision to the Judicial Conference’s guidance on judicial financial disclosures was a modest step in the right direction, further action is needed.

    Notably, on October 5, 2011, Justices Antonin Scalia and Stephen Breyer testified before the Judiciary Committee and engaged in a discussion with Committee members about the Court’s ethical standards.  In its reporting on that hearing, the New York Times noted that “[t]he ethical conduct of the Supreme Court has been under growing scrutiny” and that “[q]uestions have been raised over Justice Clarence Thomas’s appearances before Republican-backed groups and his acceptance of favors from a contributor in Texas, Harlan Crow” (emphasis added).

    It is troubling that your 2011 year-end report, which dismissed the call for the Justices to adopt the Code of Conduct, was written notwithstanding the known concerns about Mr. Crow’s largesse.  This problem could have been resolved then.  Instead, according to ProPublica’s reporting, Mr. Crow’s dispensation of favors escalated in secret during the years that followed.  Now the Court faces a crisis of public confidence in its ethical standards that must be addressed.

    In the coming days, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing regarding the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.  And if the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it.  But you do not need to wait for Congress to act to undertake your own investigation into the reported conduct and to ensure that it cannot happen again.  We urge you to do so.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter of critical importance.

    Sincerely,

    Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA)
    Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA)https://www.padilla.senate.gov/
    The proud son of immigrants from Mexico, Senator Alex Padilla, believes in giving everyone a fair shot at the American dream. A progressive problem solver, Alex has dedicated his career to finding solutions to the toughest challenges and fighting for communities that are too often left out and left behind.
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