Congress has regulated the Supreme Court for as long as the two institutions have existed. For more than a century, Congress compelled justices to travel around the country to serve as appellate judges, often on horseback. It forced the court to hear certain cases and denied it the ability to hear others. It added and subtracted seats, increased and decreased its budget, and postponed a term to avoid an adverse decision.
According to attorneys for billionaire and GOP mega-donor Harlan Crow, however, there is one thing that Congress is absolutely powerless to do: investigate Justice Clarence Thomas for ethics violations. Crow’s lawyers at Gibson Dunn announced this position in a letter on Tuesday sent in response to Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin’s own inquiries. Durbin, supported by every Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had asked Crow to provide more information about Crow’s many lavish gifts to Thomas, including private flights, cruises on a superyacht, and all-expenses-paid trips to luxury resorts. Now Crow has, through his lawyers, refused to comply, declaring that the committee has no constitutional authority to investigate the justice’s alleged ethics breaches.
Their theory boils down to this: Congress can expand or shrink the Supreme Court, stop it from hearing a case or controversy, flood its docket with mandatory appeals, and even send individual justices on thousand-mile journeys in dangerous and dirty conditions to administer the law. But looking into a justice’s decision to accept millions of dollars’ worth of gifts from his billionaire benefactor, then refuse to disclose any of it? That’s just a bridge too far. [Continue reading…]