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Senate Judiciary chair says ‘everything is on the table’ in response to Clarence Thomas revelations

<i>Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images</i><br/>Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Sunday said that
Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images
Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Sunday said that "everything is on the table" as the panel scrutinizes new ethics concerns around Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

By Aileen Graef, CNN

Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin said Sunday that “everything is on the table” as the panel scrutinizes new ethics concerns around Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

“The bottom line is this: Everything is on the table. Day after day, week after week, more and more disclosures about Justice Thomas — we cannot ignore them,” the Illinois Democrat told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“The thing we’re going to do first, obviously, is to gather the evidence, the information that we need to draw our conclusions. I’m not ruling out anything,” he added.

ProPublica reported recently that, for years, Thomas has accepted lavish trips and gifts from GOP megadonor Harlan Crow, which have gone mostly unreported on the justice’s financial disclosures. Crow also purchased several real estate properties, including the home where Thomas’ mother lives, from the Thomas family and paid boarding school tuition for Thomas’ grandnephew, according to ProPublica.

The extent to which these transactions and hospitality should have been reported by Thomas has been the subject of debate among judicial ethics experts, who have noted that a recently closed loophole for certain “personal hospitality” may have covered some of the luxury trips.

Thomas has said he followed the advice of others in deciding what required disclosure and, in a statement last month, noted that that Crow did not have business before the court.

But Durbin said Sunday the recent revelations “just embarrasses me” as he called on Chief Justice John Roberts to impose a code of conduct on the court. Roberts previously declined Durbin’s request to voluntarily testify in a hearing on Supreme Court ethics.

“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” Roberts wrote in a letter to Durbin, which was released by a spokesperson for the high court. “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.”

The debate over Supreme Court ethics was the subject of a Senate Judiciary hearing last week that featured testimony from a law professor, legal advocates and two former judges. Some Republican lawmakers said they want to see more transparency around the court, though they railed against the Democratic push for Congress to impose a code of conduct on the justices.

Durbin maintained Sunday that “this is the Roberts court, and history is going to judge him by the decision he makes on this.”

“He has the power to make the difference.”

Feinstein’s absence remains a ‘challenge’

Durbin made clear Sunday that he hasn’t reached “any conclusion” on pursuing subpoenas in relation to

Supreme Court ethics issues, but he acknowledged that the absence of Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein of California would pose a challenge to the committee “if we go down that path.”

“Right now, with her absence, it’s a 10-to-10 Committee, and the majority is not there, and a proxy vote doesn’t count in this circumstance,” Durbin said.

Feinstein, 89, has been away from the Senate since March as she recovers at home in California from shingles. Her absence has prevented the committee from advancing certain judicial nominees of President Joe Biden and several House Democrats have called on her to resign as a result.

In a statement last week, Feinstein pushed back on those claims, saying that the Senate continues to “swiftly” confirm “highly qualified individuals to the federal judiciary.” She indicated in the statement that she still plans to return but did not say when that would happen.

“She’s gone through an awful lot. She lost her husband last year, and she’s had some real medical issues that are problematic for her at her age at this point,” Durbin said. “I hope she returns, and I hope it’s this week. We need her. It is a challenge in the Senate Judiciary Committee to do our business.”

The situation, he added, is “complicated.”

“I hope she does what’s best for her and her family and the state of California and makes a decision soon as to whether she’s coming back,” Durbin said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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