Senate Democrats outraged by rejection of demands for info from wealthy friends of conservative Supreme Court justices

October 7, 2023
Ben Marquis

In their zeal to go after the conservative Supreme Court justices, some Senate Democrats have turned their attention to the wealthy personal friends of those jurists and harassed them with probing demands for private details about their relationships, ostensibly in support of an effort to legislatively establish strict ethics and code of conduct guidelines for members of the nation's highest court.

Some of those wealthy friends of the justices have now responded with rejections of those demands and a refusal to cooperate with what they assert is an unconstitutional partisan effort to impose the will of one co-equal branch of the federal government on another, according to the Washington Examiner.

The two Senate Democrats leading that effort, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), were predictably incensed at being rebuffed by the group of "right-wing billionaires" who'd been subjected to the demands.

Senate Democrats harass and target wealthy friends of justices

At issue here is Democratic legislation in the Senate known as the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act, or SCERT Act, which would subjugate the Supreme Court's justices to ethics and code of conduct standards set by Congress, which has been fueled in part by a months-long series of highly partisan media reports full of misleading or blatantly untrue allegations that the conservative-leaning jurists received but did not disclose extravagant and luxurious "gifts" from wealthy friends over the years.

Setting aside the fact that it has repeatedly been shown that the justices were not required to publicly disclose certain "gifts" from personal friends -- such as food, lodging, and travel -- until only just recently, Justice Samuel Alito fully enraged the Senate Democrats earlier this year when he bluntly stated in a Wall Street Journal interview, "No provision in the Constitution gives [Congress] the authority to regulate the Supreme Court -- period."

Finding that the Supreme Court was unwilling to submit to claimed congressional authority, Sens. Durbin and Whitehouse then sent harassing letters to four wealthy conservatives with demands that they provide the Judiciary Committee with extensive and itemized lists of every "gift" they ever gave to a member of the Supreme Court.

The Senate has no authority to regulate the Supreme Court

One of those targeted billionaires is former Berkshire Hathaway executive David Sokol, who has a decades-long personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas, and he just replied to the demands of Sens. Durbin and Whitehouse via a scathing letter from his attorney that flatly rejected their claimed authority.

Citing that decades-long "purely personal relationship," attorney Matthew Schneider wrote, "That background matters, of course, because the committee's requests do not ask about a business relationship between Mr. Sokol and Justice Thomas -- there is none -- but rather for a chronicle of a personal friendship."

"After thoughtful consideration, we have concluded that the Committee lacks the authority to investigate this personal relationship, particularly because it appears to be an attempt to circumvent well-established divisions rooted in separation of powers jurisprudence," he continued.

After explaining how the separation of powers doctrine and lack of a legitimate legislative purpose precluded the Democratic effort to subdue a co-equal branch with regulations, with a reference to Justice Alito's remarks, Schneider added, "In sum, while we respect that the Committee has the power to investigate as a means to legislate in those areas where Congress has legislative authority, Congress lacks the power to impose ethics rules or standards on the Supreme Court and thus has no right to launch an investigation for that purpose."

Senate Democrats unhappy with rejection of their demands

Needless to say, Sens. Durbin and Whitehouse were infuriated by the response and said Friday in a joint statement, "Justice Alito’s opining is being used as cover for billionaires to obstruct Congress’s legitimate oversight duties and ultimately block inquiry into undisclosed gifts and travel received by Justices Alito and Thomas.  The Committee will continue to investigate these ethical violations.  In the meantime, the public deserves answers from the Court on Justice Alito’s conduct."

The Democratic senators likely felt particularly aggrieved since just one day earlier the Judiciary Committee had indignantly responded to the refusals to comply with their demands from three other wealthy friends of conservative Supreme Court justices -- Harlan Crow, Leonard Leo, and Robin Arkley --

Those three individuals had all been previously revealed by the biased and insinuation-filled media reports to have given the "gifts" of food, lodging, and transport to their personal friends on various occasions over the years -- which, again, were not required to be publicly disclosed under the standards that were in place at the time.

The Committee Democrats published snippets of their response letters to the three billionaires and made it clear that they rejected their refusals to comply as well as the separation of powers arguments and would continue to press forward in their dubious effort to impose their legislative will on a co-equal branch of the government.

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