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With Feinstein’s absence, is everything ‘on the table’ for Supreme Court oversight?

Dick Durbin said “everything is on the table” when it comes to court ethics reform, but even he doesn’t seem to think that’s the case right now.


The Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee has not taken an overly aggressive approach to dealing with the Supreme Court’s ethical failings. Ahead of last week’s hearing on the matter, the committee chair, Sen. Dick Durbin, D.-Ill., invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify, he declined, and that was that. Justice Clarence Thomas, whose undisclosed financial ties to GOP billionaire Harlan Crow set off the latest wave of court criticism, wasn’t even asked to appear.

But as more Thomas revelations continue to trickle out, Durbin tweeted Sunday that “everything is on the table when it comes to Supreme Court ethics reform” and since the court “won’t act,” his committee will.

But act how?

At least when it comes to conducting oversight through fact-finding, it’s difficult to square Durbin’s pledge with his stated inability to issue subpoenas for Roberts, Thomas or any other reluctant witness in light of the health-related absence of his committee colleague, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

To be sure, even if Durbin mustered the political will to subpoena a Supreme Court justice, the legal success of such an attempt is far from certain. But that’s a different question from whether the committee should make whatever efforts it can to obtain relevant information from a court that’s apparently content to muddle along while it loses the trust of the people bound by its rulings.

And, of course, it’s not only the justices who could have relevant testimony or evidence to give, but also people such as Crow.

In the end, whether it’s a subpoena for Thomas, his benefactor or anyone else, until the committee has a working majority in the eyes of its chair, it’s hard to see how everything is “on the table.”