Senate committee meeting grows contentious over partisan Democratic subpoenas of friends of conservative Supreme Court justices

December 2, 2023

Ever since former President Donald Trump helped secure a conservative-leaning majority on the U.S. Supreme Court with his three appointees, Senate Democrats and their media allies have been on the warpath to undermine the credibility and legitimacy of the institution.

That came to a head Thursday when Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee ignored warnings from their Republican colleagues and pushed ahead with an effort to issue harassing subpoenas against wealthy personal friends of conservative justices, according to Fox News.

Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) was accused of having "destroyed" the committee by violating its rules and norms to prematurely end debate and reject GOP-proposed amendments and subpoenas to force through a party-line vote on politicized subpoenas of a conservative judicial activist and a major Republican donor.

Committee Democrats push forward with controversial subpoenas

According to CNN, Chairman Durbin succeeded on Thursday in holding a vote that had been delayed weeks earlier to authorize subpoenas against Federalist Society co-chair Leonard Leo and billionaire GOP megadonor Harlan Crow.

As had been asserted in overtly biased media reports earlier this year, Leo was accused of organizing and partially paying for a fishing trip for Justice Samuel Alito years ago while Crow was accused of paying for multiple luxury vacations and other "gifts" for Justice Clarence Thomas -- none of which was publicly disclosed by the justices largely because the ethics code in place at the time didn't require disclosures involving such gifts from personal friends.

The reports from partisan media sources helped fuel the focus of Senate Democrats intent on harassing the conservative jurists and their wealthy friends as part of an ostensible effort to impose a stricter ethics code on the Supreme Court -- a move that critics claim oversteps the Senate's bounds and infringes upon the autonomy and independence of a separate and co-equal branch of the federal government.

For what it is worth, even CNN acknowledged that the committee's party-line vote to authorize subpoenas of Leo and Crow means little given the fact that, should either target refuse to comply, Senate Democrats would need to get 60 votes on the Senate floor to enforce the subpoenas -- an unlikely prospect in the nearly evenly-split legislative body.

"Congratulations on destroying the United States Senate Judiciary Committee"

Fox News reported that the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Thursday grew highly contentious as Chairman Durbin ignored multiple and repeated objections from several Republican members as he pressed forward with roll call votes on some of President Joe Biden's judicial nominees who hadn't been fully debated yet before holding a vote on the controversial subpoenas.

"Mr. Chairman, you just destroyed one of the most important committees in the United States Senate," Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said. "And you set a precedent, which will be repeated every time one party or the other takes advantage and takes the low road. It sets a precedent that will then become the norm," and later reiterated with heavy sarcasm, "Congratulations on destroying the United States Senate Judiciary Committee."

CNN noted that Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Durbin at one point, "We believe what you’re doing is politically motivated. There’s not an ounce of legislative purpose in these subpoenas."

Another member, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), also spoke out on several occasions during the meeting and later posted a thread of tweets that summarized his view of the situation and partisan rule-breaking that occurred. Noting the advanced warnings of retribution he had issued, Cotton observed, "And now that Durbin opened the pandora's box of harassing private citizens with subpoenas, believe me, Democrats: what goes around, comes around," and added, "As Leader McConnell once said, they're going to regret this, and they may regret it a lot sooner than they think."

Senate Democrats shouldn't expect much cooperation from subpoena targets

As for the targets of the Democratic subpoenas, Fox News noted that Leo vowed to refuse to cooperate and said in a statement, "Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats have been destroying the Supreme Court; now they are destroying the Senate. I will not cooperate with this unlawful campaign of political retribution."

CNN, meanwhile, noted that Crow said in a statement that he had already provided "extensive" responses to the committee's demands and was willing to engage further "in good faith" even as he registered his "strong objections" to the "necessity and legality" of the subpoenas and the "unlawful and partisan" manner in which Senate Democrats had conducted themselves.

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