Among Anita Hill’s sexual assault allegations was sound from a 1991 video of Thomas appearing before the committee. clip As the technicians test the playback, it repeats itself. More sound: A young Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) to order the committee. “Judge, you’ve had a tough day and a tough night, I know,” he said.
The guests for Tuesday’s hearing had just started arriving.
The famously silent justice is once again facing allegations that question the propriety of his conduct while holding a high government position. ProPublica has reported Thomas received lavish gifts and hospitality from real estate magnate Harlan Crowe, a conservative billionaire and GOP donor, for more than 20 years.
“Tough days and tough nights for you, I know,” Biden’s voice repeats overhead.
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-III) has had a tough few weeks. In the wake of these revelations there was enthusiasm among liberals and for sentinel type Any to do this Some They held Thomas accountable for a flagrant breach of long-standing norms of judicial ethics – and possibly the law. Some were asking Durbin to take an action that has only happened once before in this country: using the Senate’s subpoena power to capture Thomas. To appear before the panel at Constitution Avenue and explain himself.
“There are a lot of us who feel that a subpoena should be on the table,” said committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) in a brief interview with The Washington Post in late April. “If Clarence Thomas refuses to appear voluntarily, he should be invited to explain this completely mind-boggling series of gifts – luxury cruises and plane rides and money payments.”
Will justice even follow, if it goes this far? When the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Justice Tom Clark in 1953, the justice declined to appear, and the committee did not try to compel compliance in court. This time, the situation was even more complicated The absence of committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which would apparently provide a crucial vote that would allow Democrats to get the legislation, or a subpoena, through the panel over Republican opposition. (Feinstein has been recovering from shingles for more than two months.)
Against these procedural headwinds, Durbin, whose staff did not make him available for an interview, chose a more diplomatic path.
“I invited the Chief Justice to join the conversation,” he said at the start of Tuesday’s hearing. But the chief justice declined, as many had expected, citing “separation of powers concerns”. Durbin didn’t buy in at all. “The fact is that judges who have sat in 92 congressional hearings since 1960 have testified,” he said, “and I also gave the chief justice the opportunity to nominate someone else to testify in court.”
What else would he be willing to do? when it comes down to how Doing Are you a problem solver like Clarence Thomas?
We are told that in the constitutional ether, lies a strict separation of powers which prevents any interference by Congress and the President with the independence of the judges. Lately, in the case of the Upper Chamber and the High Court, that system looks like this: Durbin is at a standoff with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in a battle of polite letters.
“We urge you to immediately … launch an investigation and take all necessary action to prevent further misconduct,” Read Durbin’s first public letter, which has been signed by all Democrats on the committee.
One more request. Will Roberts please appear before the committee?
“I must respectfully decline your invitation,” Roberts wrote back, “as might be expected in light of the concerns of separation of powers and the importance of preserving judicial independence.,
“It is remarkable,” Durbin replied, “that no judge would speak to the American people after several revelations that called the Court’s ethical standards into question.”
It is worth noting, That’s where things were headed toward a hearing—which, in the absence of any actual Supreme Court justices (or Crowe, Thomas’ liberal billionaire) Buddy) featured testimony from a variety of legal experts, who will seek to offer a thoughtful perspective on the code of conduct that Supreme Court justices must adhere to. (There isn’t.) A law professor and a litigator went back and forth over the tangled constitutional questions of what Article III did and didn’t say (it’s about the judicial branch). Both Democrats and Republicans ponder what the Founding Fathers wanted for this nation more than 200 years ago, before private jets and megayachts existed. Michael Mukase, a former federal judge who was called to testify by Republicans, entertained a hypothetical scenario in which a wealthy friend His A free vacation via private jet.
“Did I refuse and jeopardize the friendship?” Mukase, who also served as attorney general, wondered aloud. “I’m not sure I would have.”
Republican politicians at the hearing claimed that the The exercise was just the latest salvo in a decades-long campaign to weaken the court—and especially the justice he nominated to replace Thurgood Marshall—so a 1991 video, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) , in which Thomas famously called the Anita Hill hearings “high-tech lynching”.
The top Republican on the panel, Sen. Lindsay O. “I think that’s what you’re trying to do on the Democratic side,” Graham (RS.C.) said, before holding up a poster board with the headline “Democrats threaten Roberts Court.”
“It’s strange for me to be here,” remarked former federal judge Jeremy Fogel, who tried to avoid serving on the bench when he attempted to keep clear of partisan sarcasm.
Democrats looked away, uninterested, as the old video of Thomas and Biden played. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D.R.I.), who grabbed the gavel when Durbin dropped out of the hearing during the roll call vote, abruptly cut off Cornyn as he was responding to a witness who argued for separation of powers. Talking about importance.
Whitehouse said, “Senator’s time is up—minutes ago.”
But the news about Thomas gave way to a stream of stories about other conservatives on the Supreme Court: Neil M. gorsach Allegedly Selling a 40-acre Colorado estate to the head of a law firm that frequently comes before the courts. Chief Justice’s wife Allegedly Making millions recruiting lawyers in top firms. a conservative law school Allegedly Providing generous benefits to many conservative judges as part of plum academic contracts. Two A few days after the Durbin hearing, ProPublica would report another story about Thomas and Crowe, saying The crow paid for boarding school tuition Grandson of Thomas, whom Justice is said to have raised as a son.
But during the hearings, the idea of the Senate scrutinizing judges was being brushed off as ludicrous.
“Justice Barrett, if you’re listening, I hope you don’t have overdue library books,” quipped Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.).
Legal experts point out that senators have, in theory, an arsenal of tactics at their disposal to police the Supreme Court. They could threaten to eliminate the court’s budget during its annual review. They can ask the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate possible allegations. They could consolidate support for impeachment of a member of the bench, as some members of the House have tried unsuccessfully to do with Thomas.
Congress can also do what the Constitution gives it the right to do: pass laws. Tuesday an eagle eyed photographer captured an image of the notes Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) suggested that Feinstein could return as soon as next week — in which case the committee could move legislation more quickly to the Senate floor. can transfer. (Any bill would face overwhelming obstacles in the GOP-controlled House.)
Whitehouse has taken a parallel route. He and a House colleague, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), sent a letter urging the Judicial Conference of the United States, the agency charged with administering the courts, to investigate Thomas. may be sent to the Attorney General. A top official at the conference referred the letter to an internal committee for further action.
The Rhode Island Democrat has been sending letters for some time. During the hearing, he punctuated his opening remarks by slamming stapled sheets of paper in front of him—messages he sent to various judicial bodies to inquire about the extent of the Supreme Court’s ethics. “That would be Exhibit 3 … That would be Exhibit 5 … Exhibit 10.” They have got some satisfactory answers.
In a late April interview running along Constitution Avenue in his office, Whitehouse said that the justices “have now dug themselves into such a deep hole that other institutions are having to act.”
For now, however, the political tools of the Judiciary Committee will be mediated by Senator Durbin, who heads it.
On Tuesday, after most of the guests had left the room, Durbin offered his opinion about the man who did not appear for his hearing.
“I respect him,” he said of Roberts. “I really think it’s his court and he can make of it whatever he wants.”