WASHINGTON — A lawyer for Republican donor Harlan Crow has told Senate Judiciary Democrats that the billionaire businessman will not provide them with information about his relationship with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Michael D. Bopp, Crow's attorney, told Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a letter on Monday that he believes the committee doesn't have the authority to "investigate Mr. Crow’s personal friendship with Justice Clarence Thomas."
Congress "does not have the constitutional power to impose ethics rules and standards on the Supreme Court," Bopp wrote. "Doing so would exceed Congress’s Article I authority and violate basic separation of powers principles. That precludes the Committee from pursuing an investigation in support of such legislation."
In response, Durbin released a statement saying the letter "did not provide a credible justification for the failure of Mr. Crow and three corporate entities to respond to the Committee’s written questions."
"The Committee will respond more fully to this letter in short order, and will continue to seek a substantive response to our information requests in order to craft and advance the targeted ethics legislation needed to help restore trust in the Supreme Court," Durbin said in a statement. "As I’ve said many times before: The Chief Justice has the power to establish a credible, enforceable code of conduct for the Court today. However, if the Court will not act, this Committee will."
Bopp's argument not to comply with the committee mirrored what he told the Senate Finance Committee earlier this month. The panel had requested a list of gifts that Crow had given Thomas, but Bopp argued that the committee lacks a legislative purpose in its request for such a list.
He said the "Supreme Court has explicitly stated that Congress has no authority to engage in law enforcement investigations or to conduct investigations aimed at exposing citizens' private affairs for the sake of exposure."
Durbin and other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee asked Crow to provide an itemized list of gifts worth more than $415 that he gave to Thomas or any other justices or their family members. They also asked Crow to provide a full list of real estate transactions, transportation, lodging and admission to private clubs he might have provided.
Thomas has been under fire over allegations reported by ProPublica that he failed to properly disclose trips and gifts paid for by Crow, the sale of Thomas’ and his relatives’ properties to Crow, and tuition that Crow had paid for one of the justice’s relatives.
Thomas said after ProPublic's reports that he had been advised that the trips and gifts were “personal hospitality from close personal friends” and did not have to be reported in disclosures.