Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, called out Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for falling short of ethics rules that apply to other public servants, in an interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Thomas has faced scrutiny since ProPublica recently reported that he failed to disclose gifts and luxury travel from wealthy GOP donor Harlan Crow. He also sold property to Crow, which was also not disclosed. Those allegations have been referred to a judicial committee that reviews financial disclosures, NBC News reported last week.
Asked by host Chuck Todd if Thomas' reported conduct would amount to a violation of law if he were a circuit court judge, Durbin said: "That's exactly the point.
“You'd say to yourself, 'Well, that's obvious.' That's the sort of thing that needs to be disclosed. That’s a clear indication of a conflict of interest,” Durbin said on “Meet the Press.”
"So yes, there’s no question in my mind that the Supreme Court has exempted itself from standards that apply to the executive and legislative branch and even to other judges," he said.
Durbin last week asked Chief Justice John Roberts to testify before Congress in early May about ethics rules for Supreme Court justices and potential changes following the Thomas revelations. Durbin said in a statement Saturday that Roberts had not yet responded to his invitation for him to testify before the committee.
Durbin said he received a response from Judge Roslynn Mauskopf, secretary of the Judicial Conference, who told him that that his request had been forwarded to its Committee on Financial Disclosure. “It is becoming clear that such an appearance by the chief justice may be the only way for the court to set out with clarity any meaningful and credible reform,” Durbin said in his Saturday statement.
Asked on "Meet the Press" whether he believes that Roberts turned his invitation down, Durbin said that he doesn’t view that as an “official response.”
“We’re still waiting for the chief justice to answer my invitation,” Durbin said. “I think that’s the first step that ought to be taken.”
Thomas has acknowledged his failure to disclose trips paid for by Crow. In a statement this month, Thomas said that Crow and his wife, Kathy, are “dearest friends” and that he and his wife have joined them on family trips for years.
“Early in my tenure at the Court, I sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable,” Thomas said in a statement following the ProPublica report.
“I have endeavored to follow that counsel throughout my tenure, and have always sought to comply with the disclosure guidelines,” he added.
Thomas said he would comply with changes made to disclosure rules that were announced last month. Those revisions made it clear that trips on private jets and stays at privately owned resorts like the one Crow owns in upstate New York would have to be disclosed.
The change to disclosure rules tightened an exemption for “personal hospitality” that was not strictly defined. The rules were tweaked weeks before ProPublica’s report on the trips that Thomas took that were funded by Crow.