Senate Democrats Vote to Subpoena Supreme Court Conservative Allies Crow and Leo

Washington, D.C. – November 30, 2023

 Supreme Court Conservative Allies Crow and Leo

In a bold move, Senate Democrats voted on Thursday to issue subpoenas to two prominent allies of conservative Supreme Court justices, Harlan Crow and Leonard Leo. This uncommon measure is aimed at uncovering more information about undisclosed gifts to the justices, a contentious issue that has sparked a heated debate between Democrats and Republicans.

The hearing, featuring forceful arguments and pushback from both sides, took place two weeks after the Supreme Court announced its adoption of a broad code of conduct to enhance “integrity and impartiality” among the justices. Committee Democrats, led by Chairman Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), have persistently sought the adoption of such a code following reports that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. accepted undisclosed luxury trips paid for by Crow or arranged by Leo.

While the new ethics rules by the Supreme Court were acknowledged as a positive first step by some, legal ethics experts criticized them for lacking a process to handle complaints about justices violating standards and for granting too much discretion to individual justices over recusal decisions.

During Thursday’s hearing, Democrats argued that the adopted code did not go far enough, asserting the need to subpoena Crow and Leo for more information to inform proposed legislation. Sen. Durbin emphasized that without an enforcement mechanism, the code alone is insufficient to restore public faith in the Court.

Republicans vehemently opposed the effort, characterizing it as an attempt to delegitimize the conservative majority appointed by President Donald Trump. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), the committee’s ranking Republican, labeled the subpoena vote a “charade” intended to tarnish the reputation of conservative justices, particularly Justice Thomas.

If Crow and Leo refuse to comply with the subpoenas, Democrats can seek enforcement through the courts, a process requiring a full Senate vote with “60 votes”necessary to overcome a filibuster.

Sen. Graham expressed skepticism, stating, “These subpoenas are never going to see the light of day,” and highlighted that achieving 60 votes for the subpoenas would be unlikely. Republicans had prepared nearly 200 amendments to slow down the process, but Sen. Durbin proceeded with the vote, prompting Republicans to walk out of the committee room.

Crow and Leo have resisted Democrats’ demands for information related to Supreme Court gifts and travel, arguing that the committee’s requests are overly invasive and politically motivated. In a statement, Crow’s office called the subpoena unenforceable and the investigation unlawful and partisan. Similarly, Leo stated that he “will not cooperate with this unlawful campaign of political retribution.”

The subpoena issuance sets the stage for a legal and political showdown, adding a new layer of intensity to the ongoing debate over the Supreme Court’s ethical standards.

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