Harlan Crow blows off another Senate committee

Harlan Crow, Texas real estate magnate and very dear friend of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, has instructed his lawyer to tell yet another Senate committee to pound sand. Congress doesn’t have the authority to oversee the Supreme Court, the lawyer asserted in a response to the Judiciary Committee’s request for details of the millions of dollars in gifts, travel, hospitality, and real estate transactions provided to Thomas by Crow—money and perks that Thomas has failed to disclose for decades, potentially in violation of federal disclosure laws.

“After careful consideration,” Crow’s lawyer, Michael Bopp, writes, “we do not believe the Committee has the authority to investigate Mr. Crow's personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas.” Of course it has that authority. That whole “checks and balances” business we all learned about in civics class—that’s what that’s about. The founders wouldn’t have allowed for the impeachment of Supreme Court justices if they didn’t intend for Congress to be able to check the court.

Crow’s lawyer isn’t just asserting that the Supreme Court is off limits, but that anyone a justice receives special favors from is off limits, too. Life’s great when you’re an untouchable billionaire in America. What the committee was asking for is Crow’s records, not Thomas’, as Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin pointed out. “Mr. Crow’s letter relies on a separation of powers defense when Mr. Crow does not work, and has never worked, for the Supreme Court.”

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It’s similar to the argument that Crow’s lawyers made to Sen. Ron Wyden, chair of the Finance Committee, when he requested records disclosing all the expensive things Crow has bestowed upon Thomas and Crow’s reporting of these gifts for tax purposes, which the committee oversees. Bopp responded to Wyden with a refusal and claim that the Finance Committee doesn’t have the right to ask for that information, writing that the “Committee must have a legitimate legislative purpose for any inquiry, and the scope of the inquiry must be reasonably related to that purpose.”

Wyden slammed back, assuring Crow’s attorney that his “claim is without merit” and “ignores the Committee’s extensive history considering legislation on matters related to the gift tax, which is a backstop to both our nation’s income and estate tax regimes.” He demanded the information again, and in a statement said it was possible that the committee would have to “follow another route to compel his answers, and I’m prepared to make that happen.” In other words: a subpoena.

Durbin suggested he would consider that route as well, now that Sen. Dianne Feinstein has returned from her illness and Democrats have a majority vote on the committee again, with the power to issue subpoenas. “The Committee will respond more fully to this letter in short order,” Durbin said.

Crow clearly believes he’s not answerable to anyone, and by extension, neither should Thomas be. It’s the premise Chief Justice John Roberts has also adopted with his absolute refusal to appear before the committee to talk about the massive lapses in ethics that have come to light recently. They’re all taking the “Supreme” part of the title way too literally.

Crow insists that he’s a “private person,” “just an old guy” with a penchant for collecting Supreme Court justices to go along with his Nazi memorabilia and statues of dictators. The fact that he’s poured tons of money into right-wing causes, and recruited other millionaires and billionaires to the cause of turning the Supreme Court into the hyperpartisan political entity it is doesn’t mean that he’s not acting with the purest of motives when it comes to his friendship with Thomas.

That seems to be the prevailing attitude on the court, and that’s a massive problem for the nation when public confidence in the highest court has plunged to the lowest level in decades, in multiple surveys. Notably, most were conducted before all the revelations of Thomas’ extremely generous and secretive friend.

It is objectively dangerous for the court to be considered illegitimate by the people. It’s even more dangerous to have the court behave so badly. The government as a whole is resting on what’s a pretty flimsy piece of parchment, after all. It continues to exist as a democracy only as long as we all agree that it should. Or as long as every official who took an oath to the Constitution abides by that commitment.

The current majority on the court isn’t doing that. They won’t do that. They won’t even talk to Congress about whether or not they should be living by the most basic of ethics rules. That has to be fixed, and it has to be done by Congress and the White House. The only way to deal with the problem quickly is to expand the court. After that, further reforms can be examined, but right now, it’s the best way.


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Hell yeah! Democrats and progressives simply crushed it from coast to coast on Tuesday night, so co-hosts David Nir and David Beard are devoting this week's entire episode of "The Downballot" to reveling in all the highlights. At the very top of the list is Jacksonville, where Democrats won the mayor's race for just the second time in three decades—and gave the Florida Democratic Party a much-needed shot in the arm. Republicans also lost the mayor's office in the longtime conservative bastion of Colorado Springs for the first time since the city began holding direct elections for the job 45 years ago.

Report of investigation into leaked draft of abortion decision is coming, Gorsuch says

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch said Thursday that the investigation into the leak of the draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, is still continuing and that investigators will issue a report of those findings, but he made no promises that the results will be made public.

Speaking at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado Springs, Gorsuch said that the “internal committee to oversee the investigation” appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts “has been busy, and we’re looking forward to their report, I hope soon.” How soon he would not say, nor would he say if that report would be seen by anyone outside of the Court. The conference organizers barred reporters from questioning Gorsuch or other judges participating.

Gorsuch continued, saying, “Improper efforts to influence judicial decision-making, from whatever side, are a threat.” Yes, from whatever side. “They inhibit our capacity to communicate with one another,” he said, chilling the communication between opposing justices, which “improves our final products,” he said. “I very much hope we get to the bottom of this sooner or later.”

Justice Samuel Alito’s anachronistic screed against abortion was leaked in early May of this year, weeks ahead of the final opinion. It showed precious little input from any dissenting justice, and was virtually identical to the final opinion. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that in the weeks between the leak and the decision, there might have been alterations inspired by one of the three liberals. In another universe, with another set of extremist justices and someone who is not Alito.

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Given all we’ve seen from the Court’s extremist, Trump-packed majority, it seems likelier than not that if the investigation determines the leak came from their camp, that report will never see the light of day. That’s how they like to do things, after all. Look at all the radical and democracy-breaking decisions they issued from the shadow docket, without holding any hearings, with no transparency, and in unsigned decisions consisting of one or two sentences.

But if the leak came from the minority—a clerk, a justice—or from support staff—a janitor—we’re a lot more likely to hear about it.

All we know about the investigation is that it heightened already existing tensions in the Court, according to long-time court reporter Nina Totenberg at NPR. Terrified clerks considered getting lawyers, after the court asked them to sign affidavits and open up their cellphones to the investigators. They were in a no-win situation. Assert their right to get a lawyer and not turn over their phone, and they would immediately be under suspicion, a potentially career-ending situation.

On the other hand, the justices themselves are basically untouchable. No one can demand of them that they turn over cellphones or even cooperate with investigators. If one of the justices was responsible for the leak, we will probably never know.

There’s no code of ethics governing the Supreme Court, and the only remedy for dealing with a rogue justice is impeachment. Impeachment, or court reform and expansion. It’s long past time that Congress applied the same code of conduct to the Supreme Court as to every other federal judge.

It’s also time to impose other reforms, including court expansion, to make correct the horrific imbalance Trump and Mitch McConnell created with their court packing.

Schiff: ‘The court is the most unrepresentative body in the U.S.’ and ‘needs to be unstacked’

The effort by a handful of committed Democrats to elevate Supreme Court expansion got a powerful boost this week when Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) added his voice. In a tweet Wednesday, Schiff said: “What I care about is that a small number of conservative justices, who lied about their plans to the Senate, intend to deprive millions of women of reproductive care. Codifying Roe isn't enough. We must expand the court.”

He elaborated on that in an interview with CBS News’ Robert Costa Thursday. “I think the court is now the most unrepresentative body in the United States,” He said. “It is a socially conservative court that has moved in a partisan direction to enact a partisan agenda. And it is the result of Mitch McConnell withholding a justice when Barack Obama was president and then forcing through a justice in the waning days before the election with President Trump.”  

Rep. Adam Schiff on why he has called for the Supreme Court to be expanded: "I think the court is now the most unrepresentative body in the United States." pic.twitter.com/xJ7WKIH1Vt

— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 5, 2022

“As a result, the court is now stacked in this socially conservative way and I think it needs to be unstacked,” he continued. 

“Stacked” or “packed” by McConnell and Trump, choose your rhetoric, the result is the same: “the court is now in a position to force on America a policy regarding abortion that America does not agree with, that puts women’s health at risk and I think is disastrous for the country.”

Christine Pelosi talks about the Supreme Court's leaked decision on Roe v. Wade, and what Democrats are doing now, on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast

The first order of business for congressional Democrats, he said, is to hold the vote on legislation to codify Roe v. Wade. He had a message for the two supposedly pro-choice senators who aided and abetted McConnell and Trump in this, as well as for the anti-filibuster Democrats: “I have to hope that some of these senators that bought these assurances from these Supreme Court nominees when they—before the Senate, under oath—said that they would respect precedent, having seen those promises betrayed, would support legislation now to codify Roe and do what’s necessary to overcome the filibuster to do it.”

That’s not going to happen, not even for as profound an issue as saving reproductive rights. But don’t get discouraged, says another key proponent for expanding the court, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She gave a much-needed pep talk to all of us in Teen Vogue this week. “We may not end the filibuster in the next hour and a half, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't fight to do exactly that. To make change takes not only passion, but persistence. We gotta turn the heat up under it, and keep it up,” she said.

“Those who don't want to make change count on the fact that people get tired. Over Roe v. Wade, we don't have the luxury of getting tired. So if we want to make real change, we've got to push [to end the filibuster].”

She also gave an impassioned argument for expanding the court and for Democrats to keep fighting. “We need to be as visionary as right-wing Republicans have been,” she said. “The Roe decision, at some level, should have shocked no one. They've been working on this for decades. They've been working to stack the Supreme Court, so that it would be a handful of extremists who would deliver one opinion after another that would impose their worldview on the rest of us.”

“The number of justices on the Supreme Court is determined by Congress, that's what the Constitution says,” she pointed out. “Nine is not a magic number. It's been changed seven times before. When a court has gotten this far out of sync with American values, then it's time to expand the court and pull it back toward the middle.”

That’s the fight. It wouldn’t hurt for Schiff, who led the first Trump impeachment, to start making a legislative case for expansion by investigating all five extremist justices for swearing, under oath, to varying degrees of fealty to the idea of stare decisis—Supreme Court precedent. They all lied to different degrees about the respect they would give to the previous courts’ decisions.

They’ve, as Schiff said, squandered the integrity of the court. “[S]adly, most Americans now view the court as they should in the wake of this draft opinion as no longer a conservative legal court but merely a partisan one. The court has sadly become a partisan institution, like every other.”