By Sharon Zhang | 27 July 2023
Far right influence peddler Leonard Leo rebuffed Senate Democrats’ inquiry into his reportedly extremely close relationship with Supreme Court justices this week, making an argument that experts have criticized as “comically absurd.”
Leonard Leo advances comically absurd legal arguments to justify his defiance of valid congressional oversight. Like Harlan Crow, Leo can do this only because he knows that the justices he installed–and whose pockets he lines–will ultimately protect him. https://t.co/JdXoy2CW2z
— Alex Aronson (@alexaronson) July 25, 2023
David B. Rivkin Jr., a lawyer for Leo, wrote in a defiant letter that Senate Judiciary leaders’ request that Leo account for any gifts and favors he’s given to Supreme Court justices is not only “politically charged” but also a violation of two constitutional amendments — a bizarre argument at best.
Rivkin claimed that the Democrats’ inquiry is a violation of the First Amendment right to free speech and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment, and said that the Democrats have a record of targeting and “vilifying” Leo for his right-wing beliefs. He also argued, similarly to Chief Justice John Roberts, that Congress doesn’t have the power to oversee the Supreme Court, which experts have said is simply not true.
Leo has been the subject of scrutiny from lawmakers and government watchdogs not just for his and his dark money network’s relentless mission to erode Americans’ civil rights, but also for his position of extreme power within U.S. politics.
For decades, political insiders have known him as one of the most influential people in politics, pulling the levers of power from his position of relative anonymity among the public; Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who Leo has covertly helped uplift for many years, once jokingly referred to Leo as the “number three most powerful person in the world.” Leo enjoys a particularly close relationship with the Supreme Court, having played a part in getting every sitting conservative justice nominated to the bench.
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The letter came in response to an inquiry from Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and the Senate Judicary’s Federal Courts Subcommittee Chair Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) earlier this month asking for Leo to provide the Senate with a full account of any gifts and favors that he had provided to Supreme Court justices.
The inquiry was prompted by several bombshell reports finding that Supreme Court justices, particularly Thomas and Samuel Alito, had accepted large gifts from conservative billionaires — due, some legal observers have noted, to a matchmaking service run by Leo to pair conservative justices with conservative beneficiaries. In fact, Leo had reportedly arranged a 2008 fishing trip in which Alito was given a free flight on hedge fund billionaire Paul Singer’s private jet, after which Alito ruled in a 2014 case in favor of Singer’s firm.
Legal experts have said that Rivkin’s arguments are outrageous. “Leonard Leo advances comically absurd legal arguments to justify his defiance of valid congressional oversight,” Alex Aronson, civil rights lawyer and advocate for judiciary accountability, wrote on Twitter (now known as X). “Like Harlan Crow, Leo can do this only because he knows that the justices he installed — and whose pockets he lines — will ultimately protect him.”
Though Rivkin says that Democrats are politically motivated in wanting to scrutinize Leo — ignoring the clear political motives behind the Supreme Court’s recent decisions — Durbin and Whitehouse have pointed out that they have been pursuing stronger ethics guidelines for the Court for many years, dating back to the Barack Obama administration.
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— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) October 11, 2023
“I wasn’t motivated by any decision by this court — they weren’t even in existence,” Durbin told Vanity Fair earlier this year. “We’re certainly not zeroing in and saying, ‘if you fix the Thomas problem, the Court’s in good shape.’ We think all the justices should be held to the same standard, at least of the other courts in the United States.”
Lawmakers also emphasized their goals to ensure all Supreme Court justices adhere to ethics standards in markup for an ethics reform bill last week.
“The Supreme Court has been captured by special interests,” said Whitehouse. “We are here because the highest court in the land has the lowest standard of ethics anywhere in the federal government.”
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