The Democrats’ attack on the Supreme Court has never been about ethics. It’s about trying to destroy the court now that the left no longer controls it. Democrats’ criticism of the court’s recently issued Code of Ethics, which every justice on the court signed, proves this point again. The left’s go-to judicial ethics expert, Professor Stephen Gillers, opined that the code is a “commendable piece of work.”
But that’s not good enough for the two Democrats leading the partisan and unprecedented investigation into the court, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Both senators issued comments critical of the court’s new code, including that it does not have an outside enforcement mechanism to oversee the justices’ compliance. But the Supreme Court is a separate branch specifically established in the Constitution, and it would be unconstitutional for anybody to oversee the justices’ decision-making.
Despite Justices Thomas and Alito acting honorably and ethically, Durbin has issued a notice for a meeting this Thursday for the Senate Judiciary Committee to consider sending subpoenas to friends of these justices for information on their friendships. These subpoenas would be constitutionally defective as they are not in support of any legislative purpose.
But what is more astonishing is how these Democrats attack the court for so-called “ethical” transgressions, when both senators themselves have taken unethical official actions to benefit their spouses’ clients.
In 2014, the Chicago Tribune reported that Sen. Durbin personally directed an appropriation earmark of $150,000 to one of his wife’s clients, the American Lung Association. The Tribune details many other grant awards to clients of his wife, a lobbyist, that Durbin announced and took credit for.
Another client, the City of Naperville, “got plenty of federal funding during the time Loretta Durbin was its state lobbyist,” according to the Tribune story. Robert Marshall, Naperville’s police chief and later acting city manager who sat on the city board that selected Mrs. Durbin’s lobbying firm, said “I looked at it as an advantage” in hiring her firm to represent the city. Though Loretta Durbin claims she only lobbied state and local governments, not the federal government, the contract she signed said she would do both, and Marshall said he could have access to Sen. Durbin on federal issues. In fact, according to the Tribune, “Marshall said he sat next to Sen. Durbin at a client dinner put on by the lobbying firm and they talked about federal legislation.”
In his interview with the Tribune, Sen. Durbin produced a letter from the Senate Ethics Committee which advised Durbin that whether his wife lobbied the Senate would be “left to the ultimate discretion of the Senator and his or her spouse.”
Whitehouse has repeatedly taken official action benefitting the interests of many of his wife’s employers. For example, Whitehouse introduced legislation in 2022 that would require the federal government to remove carbon dioxide from the environment, including the ocean, by entering into contracts with companies that have carbon removal technology. His wife, Sandra Whitehouse, began working as an ocean policy advisor in 2022 for a startup company, Running Tide, which is developing technology to remove carbon from the ocean. Sandra Whitehouse has championed Running Tide’s carbon removal technology, and according to press reports, her company’s CEO lobbied Congress to “mandate” more funding for carbon removal technologies from the ocean. Sen. Whitehouse directly sought to help his wife’s new employer the year she began working for the company.
In 2023, Whitehouse introduced legislation to establish a federal office that would support seaweed farmers to promote blue carbon ecosystems. Running Tide uses a type of seaweed kelp as part of its carbon removal technology and would directly benefit from this bill.
Previously, Whitehouse introduced legislation, Save Our Seas Act 2.0, that directly benefits another group with which Sandra Whitehouse worked, Ocean Conservancy. In fact, this group endorsed his bill. Whitehouse has written articles on Ocean Conservancy’s website and has been a panelist at conferences they have hosted, while Sandra Whitehouse was a contractor for them.
There is little separation between Sen.Whitehouse’s work and his wife’s environmental ocean-related work, as Sen. Whitehouse has introduced at least 24 ocean-related bills. Sandra Whitehouse has been paid $3.1 million since 2008 for her work with Ocean Conservancy and another ocean-related nonprofit, AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles, and more for her work with Running Tide.
Durbin’s and Whitehouse’s actions would have been unlawful under federal recusal laws governing the executive branch and the federal judiciary, but Congress has refused to enact legislation to cover their own conflicts of interest. In fact, the Senate Ethics Manual specifically permits senators to work and promote legislation that benefits their own and their spouses’ financial interests. And that’s what Durbin and Whitehouse have done.
Moreover, don’t be deceived that the Senate established a Senate Ethics Committee to supposedly police a senator’s improper or perhaps illegal conduct. That committee is a joke. Even the left-wing Campaign Legal Center (CLC) excoriated the pathetic record of the Ethics Committee’s lack of enforcement and transparency: “The Ethics Committee’s annual reports from 2009 to 2022 establish conclusively that the public cannot rely on the Ethics Committee to actively enforce ethics rules.” CLC notes, citing another publication, that the committee has not sanctioned a single senator since 2007. And this damning finding comes from CLC’s Kedric Payne, who was Whitehouse’s star witness at one of his hearings on Supreme Court ethics.
It is pure gaslighting for Durbin and Whitehouse to accuse the Supreme Court of being “unethical” and to criticize the court’s new code of ethics, when these two senators are not subject to any conflict of interest laws and engage in direct actions to benefit their own and their spouses’ clients’ financial interests.