As the past few months’ continuous stream of new revelations has uncovered a litany of financial favors and close relationships between Supreme Court justices and wealthy conservatives, Senate Democrats are shining the spotlight on one of the most influential figures behind the whole scheme: conservative judicial kingmaker and master of dark money Leonard Leo.
On Wednesday, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), chair of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Federal Courts, and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened an inquiry into three people central to recent allegations.
The lawmakers sent letters to Leo and two conservative billionaires, Paul Singer and Robin Arkley II, the latter of whom were revealed to have given gifts to Justice Samuel Alito in a bombshell ProPublica report last month. The letters demanded that Leo and the billionaires provide a full accounting of their gifts and favors to Alito and the Supreme Court.
“To date, Chief Justice Roberts has barely acknowledged, much less investigated or sought to fix, the ethics crises swirling around our highest Court. So if the Court won’t investigate or act, Congress must,” Whitehouse and Durbin said in a joint statement. “Answers to these questions will help the Committee’s work to create reliable ethics guardrails at the Court, under Congress’s clearly established oversight and legislative authority.”
Both Alito and Justice Clarence Thomas have taken large gifts that they never disclosed, as recent reports have revealed. According to ProPublica, in 2008 Singer gave Alito a free trip on his private jet to an Alaska fishing lodge — a gift worth more than $100,000 one way. Once the conservative justice got there, Arkley allowed Alito to stay at histhe lodge for free. Arkley, hadand has previously also given free travel and lodging to the late Justice Antonin Scalia. None of these gifts were disclosed, despite experts saying that Supreme Court disclosure requirements mandated as such.
The letter to Leo comes at a time when his outsized influence over the U.S. judicial system and conservative politics at large is becoming more and more well-known. Whitehouse has long been critical of Leo, and is now publicly probing Leo for his wide-ranging influence over the Supreme Court.
Leo, co-chair of the Federalist Society, is one of the most influential people in politics today, especially in the judicial system; on top of having a hand in getting every sitting conservative Supreme Court justice on the bench nominated, he also appears to be a matchmaker between those justices and billionaire conservatives.
Leo or his dark money network are present in nearly every recent exposé on Supreme Court corruption, with his role apparently being to pair right-wing justices with wealthy people who will give them access to extraordinary wealth. In turn, the wealthy then have access to and influence over the Supreme Court that only the richest of the rich could buy. Recent right-wing decisions on abortion, LGBTQ rights, student loans, climate and environment, and more, have all been decades in the making by Leo and his influence peddlers.
Government watchdogs said that it is long past time that Congress scrutinized Leo over his role in the corruption within the Supreme Court.
“With the Supreme Court corruption crisis at a fever pitch, it’s no surprise that Leonard Leo is right in the middle. He’s the corrupting influence responsible for the rot, and it’s far past time he be forced to answer for his decades-long court manipulation scheme,” Accountable.US senior adviser Kyle Herrig said. “Chief Justice Roberts has refused to clean up his Court, forcing Congress to step in. Whether by Roberts or Congress, we need accountability and reform now.”
Senate Democrats, including Judiciary Committee Democrats and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), previously asked billionaire Harlan Crow to provide a full accounting of his gifts to Thomas after another ProPublica report found that Thomas had accepted lavish gifts from Crow for decades and had not disclosed them. Crow declined the requests, leading Wyden to threaten to subpoena Crow for answers.
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