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Durbin calls Justice Thomas’ luxury trips 'embarrassing,' calls again for court ethics reform

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., listens to debate over appointments to the federal courts after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., returned to the panel following a more than two-month absence as she was being treated for a case of shingles, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, May 11, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite
AP file
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., during a hearing in Washington, D.C. on May 11, 2023.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says the latest revelations about luxury trips for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas should compel Congress to pass ethics reform.

The Democrat said Thomas' actions amount to more than just an ethical lapse and they demand ethics reforms.

“This has become an embarrassing lifestyle on the part of justice Thomas,” Durbin said to reporters Thursday at the opening of EDP Renewables’ job training site in Bloomington.

“He’s doing things which no elected official would even try to get by with, and to think that he’s above it all. He’s wrong.”

ProPublica reports Thomas took dozens of vacations financed by wealthy and influential donors.

Durbin chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee that approved new ethics rules for the Supreme Court, but Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have opposed them.

“[McConnell] said we were ‘clutching our pearls’ over something that’s not that significant. I beg to differ," said Durbin. "The American people are sickened by this information and if enough Republicans come to realize that, we’ll have the votes we need to pass a code of ethics.”

The bill that passed out of committee along party lines would set transparency rules for Supreme Court justices and require them to recuse themselves from cases where they have a conflict of interest.

Blue slips stay

Durbin said he has no plans to do away a longstanding policy that some Democrats argue has been exploited by Republicans. The top House Democrat, speaker Hakeem Jeffries of New York, has said it's time to end the blue slip practice that allows senators to block judicial nominees for their home state.

Durbin said it would be mistake to drop the safeguard the both parties use.

“[Jeffries] doesn’t understand that Democrats use the blue slip, too — not for racial purposes or for other reasons, but to make sure we have a balanced court serving us in this country. So, I think it’s an important part,” said Durbin, adding the Senate has approved 140 judges under the Biden administration with the blue slip practice in place.

Hydrogen hub

Durbin is part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers from Illinois and other Midwestern states that has pushed for a regional hydrogen hub.

“Hydrogen is the next generation of power. We are probably 10-20 years removed from the effective use of it,” Durbin said. “Electric vehicles now will move us away from greenhouse gas emissions, but there can be more efficient [sources] in the future.”

The Midwest Alliance for Clean Hydrogen (MachH2) is made up of more than 60 researchers, universities and other interestsin the project. Universities taking part in the effort include the University of Illinois, Northwestern University, the University of Chicago, Chicago State University, Illinois Tech and others.

The U.S. Department of Energy is expected to select six to 10 regional hubs. Durbin said he doesn't know where a Midwest hub would be located.

Hydrogen is a clean fuel that's been in short supply. Advocates see boosting hydrogen production as a way to combat climate change.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.