Senate Judiciary panel advances Supreme Court ethics reform bill  

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines after a more-than-three-hour markup Thursday to advance a Supreme Court ethics reform bill in the wake of media reports that conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito accepted tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts and perks from wealthy Republican donors.  

The committee voted 11 to 10 to approve the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal and Transparency Act, which would require justices to adopt a code of conduct and create a transparent process for members of the public to submit ethics complaints against members of the court.  

Every Democratic member of the committee voted for the reforms while every Republican voted no. 

The bill would also require the Supreme Court to adopt disclosure rules for gifts, travel and income received by justices and law clerks that are as rigorous as Senate and House disclosure rules. 

It would establish a panel of chief judges from the lower courts to investigate and make recommendations in response to complaints and require greater disclosure of funding behind amicus curiae briefs to the court.  

Senate Republicans filed 61 amendments to the legislation to drag out the Judiciary Committee’s markup for several hours. The panel ended up voting on fewer than a dozen of them. 

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the ranking member of the panel, accused Democrats of trying to “destroy” the court in retaliation for recent landmark decisions by the court’s conservative majority to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, to reject the affirmative action policies at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina and invalidate President Biden’s student loan relief program.  

“What you’re trying to do is not improve the court, you’re trying to destroy it as it exists,” he told his Democratic colleagues on the panel.  

“You have to look at this in terms of what’s been going on for a couple years,” he said, pointing to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) warning to conservative Supreme Court justices in a rally held outside the court in March of 2020 that they would “pay the price” for ruling in favor of abortion restrictions. 

Schumer later clarified that he never intended to suggest anything other than political and public opinion consequences for the Supreme Court if it restricted abortion rights. 

Graham also accused Democrats of wanting to expand the Supreme Court to dilute the influence of conservative justices.  

“You have done just about everything there is to do to delegitimize this court,” he said. “Members of the Democratic leadership went to the steps of the Supreme Court and literally threatened people.” 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) rejected that accusation.  

“Some have suggested that Democrats are pursuing Supreme Court ethics reform to target the court’s current right-wing majority. Far from it. The reforms we are proposing would apply in equal force to all justices,” he said.  

Durbin noted that he first urged Chief Justice John Roberts 11 years ago, when the composition of the court was much different, to adopt a binding code of conduct. 

“Unfortunately, he did not accept my suggestion. Since then as more and more stories have emerged of justices’ ethical lapses, the American people’s confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped to an all-time low,” Durbin said.  

ProPublica reported in April that Thomas accepted gifts of private plane travel and luxury vacations from Republican megadonor Harlan Crow over two decades without disclosing them publicly.  

More from The Hill

The outlet also reported that Thomas didn’t disclose that one of Crow’s companies bought a property in Savannah, Ga., where Thomas’s mother lives and in which the justice owned a third interest. 

Another ProPublica report revealed that Crow paid for the private school tuition for Thomas’s teenage grandnephew, whom Thomas said he was raising “as a son.”  

ProPublica reported last month that Alito accepted a vacation at a luxury fishing lodge in Alaska in 2008 paid for by conservative donors and didn’t disclose it publicly.  

Alito traveled to the lodge aboard a private jet owned by hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer and six years later ruled in a case, Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital, that resulted in Singer’s hedge fund recouping a $2.4 billion payout. 

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), a member of the panel, argued Thursday that Thomas’s wife, Ginni, a conservative activist, accepted payments from groups with business before the court that were not properly disclosed. 

“How is it that you can have a Supreme Court justice who does not recuse himself when his wife is involved in the very issue that is before him?” she said. “Those kinds of examples really raise the question of why the Supreme Court shouldn’t have a code of ethics.” 

More recently, liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor came under criticism after The Associated Press reported that the her staff pushed colleges and a library to purchase copies of her book when she was scheduled to speak at their sponsored events. 

Democrats voted along party lines to defeat Republican amendments to the bill, including one sponsored by Graham to empower the Supreme Court’s police force to investigate threats to justices and another by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) to allow judges to carry guns for self-protection without restriction by state and local laws.  

Durbin argued that the Department of Justice and FBI already has the job of investigating threats against justices and voiced concerns that expanding the mission of the Supreme Court’s relatively small police force would overtax it and require additional resources.  

Durbin and other Democrats argued that Cornyn’s gun proposal wasn’t relevant to Supreme Court ethics reform. Cornyn argued that arming justices would protect them from potential attackers motivated by criticism of their decisions and ideology.  

Democrats also defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to delay the implementation of the Supreme Court ethics reform bill until Congress learns who leaked a draft of the court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the constitutional right to an abortion.  

Durbin said Blackburn’s proposal wouldn’t do anything to address the “crisis of confidence” in the court. 

The committee adopted an amendment sponsored by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) to condemn denigrating rhetoric used against Thomas or any justice. Republicans who supported the amendment cited several examples of Democratic officials using such rhetoric to criticize Thomas.  

—Updated at 4:50 p.m.

Chief Justice John Roberts Tells Democrats to Get Lost After They Request He Testify on Supreme Court Ethics

Chief Justice John Roberts rejected an invitation from Senator Dick Durbin to testify before Congress on ethics rules for the Supreme Court.

Roberts sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman implying that such testimony would threaten the basic government concept of separation of powers.

“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” he wrote.

“Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by the Chief Justice of the United States is exceedingly rare, as one might expect in light of separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence,” Roberts explained.

Accompanying his letter declining Durbin’s invite was a copy of the court’s Statement of Ethics Principles and Practices.

Roberts stated “all of the current Members of the Supreme Court subscribe” to that ethics statement.

RELATED: Clarence Thomas, Consistent Target Of The Left, Explains ‘Right Is Still Right Even If You Stand By Yourself’

Supreme Court Justice John Roberts Declines to Participate in Dick Durbin’s Sideshow

Dick Durbin’s invitation to Chief Justice John Roberts was little more than a thinly-veiled effort to address allegations against Justice Clarence Thomas.

Another one of those ‘high-tech lynchings’ the left likes to engage in every now and again regarding the longest-tenured black justice serving on the court.

A report this month by the left-leaning outlet Pro Publica alleged billionaire Harlan Crow, a GOP donor,  provided trips and gifts to Thomas that were not disclosed.

Following that report, other liberal media outlets have tried to make specious links between Thomas and other gifts from friends that they suddenly find scandalous.

Thomas, following allegations of impropriety, explained slowly and carefully to those wondering, that the gifts in question were from close personal friends and, as they “did not have business before the Court” it “was not reportable.”

He said he would amend his financial disclosure forms to comply with changes made to disclosure rules that were announced last month.

RELATED: Liberal Group Publishes Home Addresses Of Supreme Court Justices, Calls For Protests

Roberts Often Sides With the Left

It’s good to see Roberts stand up to Durbin, a rare morphing from a spineless jellyfish patsy for the Democrats to somebody finally showing a modicum of intestinal fortitude.

Think about it – Roberts has spent the vast majority of his time as Chief Justice abandoning his principles and voting intentionally with the liberal wing of the Court as a means to convey an image of fairness.

His lone goal is to create a legacy of a court not swayed by politics, but rather, guided by the law. And he’s been more than eager to side with the left to create that faux ethical image.

And Durbin has the gall to question the ethics of his court?

In June of 2020, Roberts cast the deciding vote, joining the court’s liberal justices in a 5-4 decision that ruled against the Trump administration’s bid to end the DACA program, despite it having been implemented illegally.

That same year he sided with the liberal court justices, ruling in favor of coronavirus restrictions on religious services in the state of California.

He ruled alongside liberals yet again in a ruling that struck down a Louisiana abortion safety law.

There are so many other cases in which Roberts abandoned the rule of law to cast his lot with the left just to seem impartial.

How bad must Durbin’s circus request be that even he would stand up and say, ‘No, this is a bit too much.’

Roberts though, does have a bit of a history of being irked by Democrats for daring to question the legitimacy of his Supreme Court.

He became visibly agitated after having to read a question from Senator Elizabeth Warren which suggested the legitimacy of the Court, the Constitution, and his own career would be tainted following the impeachment trial of then-President Donald Trump.

Fox News reported at the time that upon finishing the question, Roberts became “visibly irritated” and “pursed his lips and shot a chagrined look.”

We imagine he had the same look while writing the letter to Durbin.

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Democrats express alarm over Biden classified docs: ‘I’m very concerned’

Democrats are expressing alarm over President Biden’s classified documents controversy, with some criticizing the president as diminished in stature and his staff as irresponsible.

“I’m very concerned,” said Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.), one of several incumbent Democrats who face potentially difficult reelection races next year in reliably GOP states in presidential elections.

“We have to get to the bottom of it to find out what the hell happened, why it happened,” he said.

“This is about national security,” Tester added, saying investigators need to find out if “it put our national security at risk.”

Biden’s January has been submerged in revelation after revelation of classified documents found at his former office and home. Most recently, 11 more documents were found during a search at Biden’s Wilmington, Del., home on Friday.

The drip-drip-drip nature of the findings has left Democrats and Republicans alike wondering whether there will be more documents found and has left the White House looking off-balance at times.

Biden emerged from the 2022 midterms in a stronger position after Democrats gained a seat in the Senate and held down their losses in the House. Democrats still see Biden as their most likely standard-bearer, and lawmakers in his party have been quick to contrast his handling of classified documents with former President Trump — who is dealing with his own controversy.

At the same time, there’s little doubt the issue has raised some questions for Biden and the White House just as his team prepared to move forward with an expected presidential announcement later this year.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who like Tester is up for reelection next year in a state that Trump won easily in 2020, blasted the lax handling of secret information as “unbelievable” and “totally irresponsible.”

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., on Sept. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib, File)

Biden’s attempt to dismiss the building scandal last week by asserting “there’s no there there” also drew a barb from Manchin.

He told CNN on Monday “that’s just not a good statement,” adding “we just don’t know” what secrets may have been compromised.

Criticism from Manchin is hardly unheard of, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who represents a safer state for Democrats, was also somewhat critical on Sunday. He said the controversy “diminishes” Biden and noted the president rightly felt “embarrassed by the situation.”

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on November 15, 2022. (Greg Nash)

Durbin on Monday said of the White House: “They were not careful in handling classified documents.”

“When I think of how we deal with them in the Capitol in comparison, whoever was responsible for it didn’t follow the basic rules,” Durbin said of the handling of classified documents.

Durbin said he never took a classified document out of his office, “let alone out of the building.”

Yet Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stopped short of speculating whether Biden committed a potential crime, telling reporters: “I wouldn’t go that far.”

House Republicans are saber-rattling over the issue, signaling they intend to use their newly won oversight powers to look into the Biden documents story in a more aggressive way than they looked into Trump’s controversy.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the new chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, has requested that the Secret Service hand over all the information it has on visitors to Biden’s Delaware home in the time since he served as vice president.

The request — made to Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle on Monday — came after Comer demanded that visitor logs for the residence be turned over. The White House said last week that such records do not exist.

Later on Monday, White House counsel Stuart Delery wrote to Comer that the administration does not have possession of the documents the National Archives and Department of Justice have taken as part of the investigation into Biden’s handling of classified materials.

Delery pledged to “accommodate legitimate oversight interests” in response to Comer’s request.

One GOP strategist said Republicans will go after Biden aggressively given the Trump controversy.

“The House is going to have a field day with investigations because of the fact that the Biden administration has been so outspoken criticizing Trump for the exact thing,” said Brian Darling, a former Senate aide.

Darling said the House could vote on articles of impeachment if the special prosecutor or House investigators find Biden broken the law or jeopardized national security.

“It’s possible. It depends on how the hearings go in the House. I think it’s quite possible that there will be discussion about impeachment because Democrats seemed so open to the idea of impeachment against President Trump and we’ve seen a lot of the payback from many of the things that happened when Democrats controlled the House, like kicking members off committees,” he said.

Durbin told reporters he expects House Republicans to go overboard in trying to tear down Biden, just as they did when they tried to blame former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the death of four Americans at a U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012.

Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) said Biden’s possession of classified documents now effectively “completely neutralizes” Democratic attacks against Trump for holding sensitive material in Florida.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.)

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. (Greg Nash)

“I’m not sure I understand all the laws that pertain to classified documents. I know the procedures that apply, but it seems to me the Justice Department is going to have to sort all that out and I think right now it’s still an evolving situation,” he said.

Sen. Ron Wyden (Ore.), a senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said the careful handling of classified documents should always be a top priority and declared: “All of the circumstances are going to be examined …. So there’s a message that nobody is above the law.” 

“The rule that I follow scrupulously is you don’t take documents out of the room,” he said. “Obviously there’s a lot of information coming out and I want to wait and see what the facts are. 

But Wyden also gave Biden some political cover by drawing a distinction with Trump.  

“One point that I don’t believe is in contention is President Biden has voluntarily cooperated and the former president did not,” he said. 

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who faces a competitive re-election in a Republican-leaning state, urged the administration to be as transparent as possible.  

“There’s nothing that’s betrayal of national interest, there’s nothing he’s trying to hide but they need to come out with all of it,” he said. “He’s got to deal with it and get it over with.” 

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) expressed frustration that the media attention surrounding the classified documents scandal threatens to eclipse the congressional agenda.  

“It’s being looked at to the nth degree,” he said. “I’m concerned that I think we’re wasting an awful lot of effort on something that has a special prosecutor look[ing] into it and at the end of the day it looks like all you’re going to find is some sloppiness. We have real problems to work on,” he said.