During a recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator John Cornyn of Texas sharply criticized Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois, following the committee’s decision to issue subpoenas to Republican donor Harlan Crow and conservative legal figure Leonard Leo. The subpoenas were approved in a session that also involved the consideration of several judicial nominees.
Durbin, in his opening statement, emphasized the importance of these subpoenas, stating they were crucial for establishing a robust code of conduct for the Supreme Court. The session witnessed heated exchanges, particularly from Republican members who expressed concerns about the implications of the committee’s decisions.
Senator Cornyn openly rebuked Chairman Durbin, accusing him of undermining the integrity of the Judiciary Committee. “Mr. Chairman, you just destroyed one of the most important committees in the United States Senate,” Cornyn declared. He warned that this action would set a damaging precedent that could be exploited in the future, fundamentally altering the committee’s function and role.
Democrats have been keen to question Crow and Leo, who is associated with the Federalist Society, as part of an inquiry into claims that Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito did not properly disclose certain luxury vacations funded by these conservative figures. This move comes amidst heightened scrutiny and recent ethical conduct reforms proposed by the Supreme Court.
The dispute further intensified with the introduction of the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency (SCERT) Act by Democrats, which Republicans vehemently oppose. They argue that the act could undermine the independence and legitimacy of the judiciary, as federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, already adhere to an established ethics code.
Leonard Leo, a longstanding member of the Federalist Society, has been a significant influence in conservative legal circles, particularly noted for his advisory role in the Supreme Court nominations under former President Donald Trump. Post-hearing, Leo expressed his refusal to comply with the subpoenas, labeling the Democrats’ efforts as a campaign of political retribution.
Leo has also been a subject of scrutiny by the attorney general of Washington, D.C., Brian Schwalb. Schwalb’s office initially faced criticism for exclusively targeting Leo while ignoring a similar liberal-funded network managed by Arabella Advisors. However, responding to the criticism, the attorney general’s office subsequently initiated an investigation into the Arabella Advisors network as well