US Senate Judiciary Committee Plans Hearing on Ethics May Call Justice Clarence Thomas
The Senate Judiciary Committee, controlled by Democrats, plans to hold a hearing on the Supreme Court's ethical standards, and may even call Justice Thomas to appear.
After a meeting of Democrats on the committee Monday night, Committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), who has been searing in his criticism of Justice Thomas, said he hoped Justice Thomas would appear voluntarily.
A bombshell Report with ProPublica documented a long relationship between Thomas and Republican donor Harlan Crow, in which the billionaire showered Thomas and his wife with luxury vacations for more than 20 years.
The headlines about Justice Thomas keep coming. This week, the Washington Post reported that Thomas continued to claim annual rental income from a real estate firm that ceased to exist in 2006.
Josh Blackman, a law professor at the South Texas College of Law at Houston, said Congress could pursue further answers from Thomas but his testimony would be an extraordinary step.
“Of course, you know, politicians want the guy under oath so they can try to pin him down on something and embarrass him, right?” Blackman said. “Which is really the purpose. I can’t see a world in which Thomas voluntarily testify under oath before the Senate.”
It would be difficult to force Thomas to testify, Blackman said, because the judiciary has a constitutional interest in keeping separate from Congress. Additionally, Congress’ main tool to compel testimony is a subpoena, which requires the courts to enforce.
Issuing a subpoena to Thomas would likely end up at the Supreme Court and “put his colleagues in a very weird situation,” by forcing them to judge their colleague’s case or recuse themselves.
The only congressional subpoena for a sitting Supreme Court justice was in the 1950s, Chafetz said. Back then, the House Un-American Activities Committee subpoenaed Justice Thomas Clark, who refused, and lawmakers didn’t pursue the matter.
Chafetz said that even if the courts do not enforce a subpoena against a sitting Supreme Court justice, Congress still has other avenues to seek enforcement. For example, it could use its inherent contempt power or cut funding for Supreme Court operations.
Liberal group Common Cause sent a letter Tuesday to the Senate Judiciary Committee asking them have Thomas testify and “put it on the record for the American people,” as well as have Roberts testify.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly proven itself incapable of policing itself without a code of ethics,” Common Cause co-president Marilyn Carpinteyro said in a news release. “It is time for Congress to hold hearings and pass legislation to establish a code of ethics for Supreme Court Justices to hold them to the same standards as every other federal judge in the nation.”
Roll Call, NPR, The Washington Post