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Lee defends Supreme Court, Justice Thomas at hearing

Lee and other Republicans say they think attacks against the court are coordinated

SHARE Lee defends Supreme Court, Justice Thomas at hearing
The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

In a committee hearing Tuesday, Utah Sen. Mike Lee said he believes there’s a coordinated campaign against Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices in order to reduce trust in the court.

“All these tactics, of course, are meant to harass and intimidate the court — specifically the justices appointed to the court by Republican presidents — and force them to impose the left’s radical policy agenda on the American people not through the legislative process but by judicial fiat,” he said.  

Lee’s comments came during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday focused on Supreme Court ethics reform. The hearing came in the midst of a series of media stories about justices, including Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, who were accused of ethical issues over financial dealings with friends or fellow attorneys.

Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, of Illinois, invited Chief Justice John Roberts to testify at the hearing, but Roberts declined, saying in his letter to Durbin it is rare for the chief justice to testify to Congress, and that he was concerned about the separation of powers and “the importance of preserving judicial independence.”

At the hearing, Durbin said he was “troubled” by Roberts’ refusal and that sitting justices have testified at 92 congressional hearings since 1960. He had harsh words for the justices, suggesting they had not done enough to police themselves.

“It is critical to our democracy that the American people have confidence that judges cannot be bought or influenced, and that they are serving the public interest and not their own personal interests,” he said.

But Republicans on the committee, including Lee and ranking member Sen. Lindsey Graham, said Democrats were seeking to delegitimize the court, and that they hadn’t covered similar stories about justices who were appointed by Democratic presidents.

“If you want to talk about making the court a better institution, I’ll be glad to work with in that regard. If you want to talk about destroying the court count me out,” Graham said in his opening remarks.

Lee echoed Graham’s comments and defended Thomas, who has come under particular fire.

“The truth is the left simply disagrees with his decisions and with the decisions of our current Supreme Court and they obviously can’t persuade the American people to adopt their radical policies through legislation so they’re attempting to destroy the Court’s credibility and intimidate the Republican-appointed justices and their families, starting with Justice Thomas,” Lee said.

Lee said he knew of issues related to justices appointed by Democrats, including one who “traveled for free with wealthy friends, including stays at the homes of prominent attorneys whose firms have cases before the Supreme Court.”

“If you read articles from sources like The New York Times, Politico, and outlets like ProPublica, you’d think that the Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents are universally reckless and corrupt, and those nominated by Democrats are universally conscientious and virtuous,” he said.

In recent years, progressive groups and lawmakers, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have suggested Democrats should increase the number of justices on the court.  

When Thomas was in Utah last year, he spoke about his concerns on adding to the court.

“You can cavalierly talk about packing the court. You can cavalierly talk about doing this and doing that. At some point, the institutions are going to be compromised,” he said.

“My fear isn’t for me. But it is for your kids and your grandkids and the next generation. What are we going to leave them? Are we leaving them a mess or are we leaving them a country? Are we leaving them chaos or are we going to leave them a court?” he said.

The Utah event was moderated by Sen. Lee’s brother, Thomas Lee, who clerked for Justice Thomas and was later the associate chief justice of the Utah Supreme Court. Their father, Rex E. Lee, served as solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan.