GUEST COMMENTARY - With the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee back at full force with the return of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the progressive group Stand Up America declared Thursday that "it's time to subpoena Clarence Thomas and Harlan Crow," a right-wing Supreme Court justice and his billionaire friend who has spent decades lavishing him with secret gifts.
Facing calls to resign, Feinstein (D-Calif.)—who plans to retire after this term—came back to Capitol Hill this week after being absent for more than two months while recovering from shingles. Although advised by her doctors "to work a lighter schedule" for now, the 89-year-old joined the Senate panel Thursday to advance stalled judicial nominations.
"Now that Sen. Feinstein has returned, Senate Judiciary Democrats have no valid excuse not to subpoena Justice Thomas and begin an aggressive investigation into the extent of his wrongdoing," argued Brett Edkins, Stand Up America's managing director for policy and political affairs.
"Now that Sen. Feinstein has returned, Senate Judiciary Democrats have no valid excuse not to subpoena Justice Thomas."
"Our system of checks and balances demands that the Senate hold the Supreme Court accountable by compelling Thomas to testify publicly," Edkins said. "Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, and others involved in Thomas' numerous misdeeds should also be forced to answer questions from committee members."
Recent reporting by ProPublica revealed that Crow, a GOP megadonor, has treated Thomas to luxury travel, paid for his grandnephew's private school tuition, and bought and remodeled the justice's mother's home. Crow has also notably given Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee more than $450,000 in campaign cash, collectively.
Amid calls for investigation and even impeachment in response to revelations about Thomas' ties to Crow, The Washington Post reported last week that the justice's wife, Ginni Thomas, received tens of thousands of dollars from a right-wing nonprofit—and Leo used his role as an adviser to the Judicial Education Project to keep her name off the financial records.
"Our nation's highest court must be free from corruption and undue influence," said Edkins. "The Senate Judiciary Committee must use the full extent of its authority to hold Justice Thomas accountable. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty."
The panel, led by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), isn't alone in probing Crow's gifts to Thomas, which the justice did not disclose. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also set his sights on their relationship.
After the billionaire's attorney rebuffed Wyden's request for a "full accounting" of gifts he provided to Thomas' family, the senator pledged Tuesday to "send a full response to Mr. Crow's attorney in the coming days" and "discuss with my committee colleagues how best to compel answers to the questions I put forward last month, including by using any of the tools at our disposal."
Concerns about potential conflicts of interest and corruption involving the nation's top court extend beyond Thomas. Reports about Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch have also fueled calls for Congress to pass sweeping ethics rules.
Roberts last month declined Durbin's invitation to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee—and due to Feinstein's absence and Republicans' refusal to allow a temporary replacement on the panel, the chair could not subpoena the chief justice.
(Jessica Corbett is a senior editor and staff writer for Common Dreams where this article was first published.)