Democrats postpone a subpoena vote in the Supreme Court ethics probe after a blowup with Republicans

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee abruptly adjourned a meeting on Thursday without holding an expected vote on subpoenas for two conservatives who have helped arrange luxury travel and other benefits for Supreme Court justices.

The panel’s Democratic chairman, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, gaveled out after Republicans on the committee made clear they would call for subpoena votes on a raft of Democratic officials and others, a protest of the planned subpoenas for Republican megadonor Harlan Crow and conservative activist Leonard Leo. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on the panel, warned majority Democrats that the hearing would be contentious.

Jammed with amendments and the possibility of hours of debate, Durbin gaveled out. He said in a statement after the meeting that there were “scheduling issues” but that they would try again.

“We will continue our efforts to authorize subpoenas in the near future,” Durbin said. "The highest court in the land cannot have the lowest ethical standards.”

The Democrats are planning to subpoena Crow and Leo about their roles in organizing and paying for luxury travel for Supreme Court justices, part of the panel’s investigation into Supreme Court ethics. The committee has also pushed to set an ethics code for the court, a move that has been publicly endorsed by three of the nine justices.

Crow has been a benefactor of Justice Clarence Thomas for more than two decades, paying for nearly annual vacations, purchasing from Thomas and others the Georgia home in which the justice’s mother still lives and helping pay for the private schooling for a relative.

Leo is a Federalist Society executive who worked with President Donald Trump to move the court and the rest of the federal judiciary to the right.

The committee had also planned to vote on a subpoena for another wealthy Republican donor, Robin Arkley II, who helped arrange and pay for a private jet trip to Alaska for Justice Samuel Alito in 2008. But Durbin said Wednesday that Arkley has “provided information responsive to the panel’s requests” and that a subpoena was unnecessary.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island said that Republicans were trying to offer as many as 90 amendments to try to derail the vote. He said that Republicans “jammed the gears of the committee.”

“We will still go forward, now that we have seen this strategy, with unified support on the Democratic side for getting to the bottom of what is going on with this pattern of secret billionaire gifts to justices,” Whitehouse said.

Republicans are united in opposition to the subpoenas, and all of them voted against legislation passed by the panel in July that would force the justices to abide by stronger ethics standards.

“We all oppose what you’re doing,” Graham said at Thursday's meeting, warning Durbin that nothing would get done and it would be a “long day” if he proceeded with the subpoenas.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said she would try to get the committee to issue subpoenas on matters important to Republicans, including “the far-left effort to take down President Trump.”

Aides to Justice Sonia Sotomayor also would be targeted, Blackburn said, over efforts to get public universities to buy the justice’s books, as reported by The Associated Press.

Responding to the GOP protest, Durbin said at the meeting that the committee is not pursuing a vendetta against conservatives but that “Leonard Leo and Harlan Crow are central players in the ethics challenge facing the court.”