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Tipsheet

'Everything Is on the Table': Is Durbin Changing His Tune on How Far He'll Go Against SCOTUS?

AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool

This article has been updated to include tweets from Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL), including one indicating that the letter sent from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee to Harlan Crow is the "next step" in their crusade against the Supreme Court.

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Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) of the Senate Judiciary Committee has had it out for the U.S. Supreme Court and its conservative justices for some time now, as he increasingly raises ethics concerns. While he has previously been opposed to subpoenaing members of the Court, including Chief Justice John Roberts, he may be changing his tune. Particularly telling is that while appearing on Sunday's edition of CNN's "State of the Union," he indicated to host Jake Tapper "everything is on the table," due to hit job reports that keep coming in about Justice Clarence Thomas, who has been a particular target.

At one point, Tapper noted to Durbin that "because of the separation of powers, I believe, you're not willing to subpoena the chief justice, John Roberts," going on to also mention how Durbin had spoken out against using other options.

"You have indicated that it's unlikely you're going to be able to pass any legislation that would impose an ethics code on the court. And you have said you don't think the Justice Department should investigate Justice Thomas' actions," Tapper pointed out, going on to ask "in essence, aren't you kind of throwing up your hands and saying the Supreme Court isn't really accountable to anybody but themselves" and "there's nothing you can do, even though you're the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee?"

As he sought to defend himself against Tapper's claims of inaction, Durbin answered with a response of "not at all." He did not speak to a refusal to subpoena the justice or what he thinks the Department of Justice should do about Justice Thomas. Rather, his "bottom line," as Durbin stressed, is that "everything is on the table" and "I'm not ruling out anything."

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Durbin repeated "everything is on the table" when Tapper asked if he would subpoena the Federalist Society's Leonard Leo or GOP donor Harlan Crow." He failed to give a direct response, even when Tapper offered "obviously, you're not going to subpoena Supreme Court justices."

When it comes to what specifics Durbin did offer, sort of, he mentioned "the thing we're going to do first, obviously, is to gather the evidence, the information that we need to draw our conclusions" and also noted that the Judicial Conference, "which has received some information from the chief justice, is undergoing its own investigation, as I understand." 

Tapper had begun this part of the segment by mentioning reports against Thomas, also asking the chairman if he would consider the justice's actions to be "corrupt," a question Durbin did not directly answer. "Well, I can tell you that the conclusion most people would reach is that this tangled web around Justice Clarence Thomas just gets worse and worse by the day," he told Tapper.

"I don't know what's going to come up next. I thought I'd heard it all, but more disclosures about his activities, it just embarrasses me. The question is whether it embarrasses the Supreme Court and the chief justice," Durbin offered, going on to offer Chief Justice John Roberts should a code of conduct. 

"Chief John Roberts has the power in his hands to change this first thing tomorrow morning, he could announce a code of conduct for the court that finally means something. He could announce that the court will be subject to at least the minimal standards that apply to all other federal judges," Durbin said. 

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It's worth noting that in a letter rejecting Durbin's request, citing the separation of powers and effectively telling the chairman to stay in his lane, Roberts also attached the statement of ethics all the justices subscribe to.

"This is the Roberts court, and history is going to judge him by the decision he makes on this. He has the power to make the difference," Durbin also offered. 

Given how the chairman made the unusual move of inviting Roberts to appear before the committee and would go on to emphasize later in the segment that "everything is on the table," one could question as to if Durbin really believes that "the power" is something he agrees the chief justice has. 

Durbin similarly failed to provide a direct response when asked by Tapper "can you point to any specific action that you think Justice Thomas has taken on the court that you think was influenced by any of this?"

"Well, of course, you can connect the dots and draw your own conclusions from them," the chairman claimed in part, his answer also mentioning how Justice Thomas' connections with Leo and Kellyanne Conway "just destroy the integrity of the Court."

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Tapper, to his credit, did mention concerns with liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in addition to also bringing up Justice Neil Gorsuch. Durbin deflected to mentioning Roberts, despite how his respect for the separation of powers appears to be diminishing even further, as could hardly be demonstrated more during the segment. 

As the "State of the Union" segment moved on, Durbin was also asked about Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-CA) absence from the Senate and the committee while she recovers from shingles. She has been out for months. 

"I want to treat Dianne Feinstein fairly. I want to be sensitive to her family situation and her personal situation. And I don't want to say that she's going to be put under more pressure than others have been in the past," Durbin offered. "But the bottom line is, the business of the committee and of the Senate is affected by her absence," he left it as, bringing up a claim Feinstein's office has already addressed. He had also expressed earlier in the conversation that "

Democrats already look to be moving ahead. It's been subsequently reported by CNN that Crow's lawyer on Monday turned down a request from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) details about his relationship with Justice Thomas and his wife, Ginni. Crow has been mentioned in many reports surrounding Thomas. 

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Also on Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee's Democratic members had sent a letter to Crow. 


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