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Senate panel will hold a hearing on the Supreme Court's ethical standards

In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, Sen. Dick Durbin writes that the Senate Judiciary Committee will soon hold a hearing on the Supreme Court's ethical standards in the wake of a news report about lavish trips Justice Clarence Thomas took from a friend — a major GOP donor — but did not disclose.
Patrick Semansky
/
AP
In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, Sen. Dick Durbin writes that the Senate Judiciary Committee will soon hold a hearing on the Supreme Court's ethical standards in the wake of a news report about lavish trips Justice Clarence Thomas took from a friend — a major GOP donor — but did not disclose.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing about "the need to restore confidence in the Supreme Court's ethical standards," Sen. Dick Durbin, chair of the panel, wrote in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, following revelations in ProPublica last week that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas accepted luxury vacations from a major GOP donor but didn't disclose them.

In his letter, Durbin also urged Roberts to "immediately open ... an investigation and take all needed action to prevent further misconduct" on the court.

"And if the Court does not resolve this issue on its own, the Committee will consider legislation to resolve it," the letter says.

ProPublica reported last Thursday about the trips taken by Thomas and his wife, Ginni, a conservative activist, that were paid for by Harlan Crow. The vacations included cruises and private flights over decades that could cost millions of dollars; Thomas did not report them as part of his annual financial disclosure, according to the report.

Thomas responded last week, saying he "was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the court, was not reportable." In a statement, he described Crow and his wife, Kathy, as "dearest friends." In the statement, Thomas noted as the disclosure guidelines are now being changed that "it is ... my intent to follow this guidance in the future."

In his letter to Roberts, Durbin noted that it was not the first time that members of his panel had written to the chief justice about concerns over the court's ethical standards, adding that 11 years ago the panel had urged Roberts to get the Supreme Court to abide by the Judicial Conference's Code of Conduct for United States Judges, which binds every judge in the federal judiciary except Supreme Court justices. Roberts declined at the time, replying that the "Court has had no reason to adopt the Code of Conduct as its definitive source of ethical guidance."

"We submit that the Court has compelling reasons to do so, and urge prompt adoption of the Code of Conduct," Durbin wrote in his letter Monday. "While last month's revision to the Judicial Conference's guidance on judicial financial disclosures was a modest step in the right direction, further action is needed."

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