Senate Democrats are eyeing an invitation to Justice Clarence Thomas — whose friendship with a billionaire GOP donor has drawn heightened scrutiny in recent weeks — for a forthcoming hearing on the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee met Monday evening in Chair Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) office to discuss details of the hearing, which is still in the planning stages.
“We’re going to have hearings. This work period, I hope. Maybe even in the next few weeks,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said after the meeting. Rather than making the politically explosive move of subpoenaing Thomas, Blumenthal said he hoped the justice would answer committee members’ questions voluntarily.
Earlier in the day, when asked if he’d consider subpoenaing Thomas for his testimony, Durbin told reporters that his panel would “talk about a number of options.”
Thomas’ behavior was “high on the list” of topics discussed Monday evening, said Blumenthal, who added that there is no final decision yet on who else should testify.
Durbin has not yet confirmed that Thomas would be asked to testify. Any subpoena that Democrats might issue, should the justice turn down such an invitation, would likely be challenged and could end up before Thomas and his colleagues at the high court.
Judiciary Democrats already sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging him to investigate Thomas’ undisclosed acceptance of luxury travel and gifts from wealthy GOP donor Harlan Crow. Later reports from ProPublica delved into the sale to Crow of three Georgia properties, including the home where Thomas’ mother currently lives.
“What he did is really unprecedented, the magnitude of the gifts and luxury travel but the money changing hands and the nondisclosure,” said Blumenthal.
Senators are still hoping that the Supreme Court will take its own action, but Durbin said his panel was also open to discussing proposals to impose a formal code of ethics on the court.
“This reflects on the integrity of the Supreme Court. [Roberts] should take the initiative and initiate his own investigation and promise results that answer this problem directly,” the chair said on Monday.
If he’s asked to appear, the justice is likely to face questions about reports on his relationship with a billionaire GOP donor.