By Ted Barrett and Kaanita Iyer, CNN
(CNN) — Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin said Wednesday evening that he plans to hold votes on subpoenas for two major conservative players when the panel meets Thursday morning, as part of its probe into ongoing ethics controversies at the Supreme Court.
The expected vote to subpoena Leonard Leo, the co-chairman of the board of the influential Federalist Society, and Republican donor Harlan Crow – who have close ties to Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas – comes after committee Democrats backed down from a similar vote earlier this month in response to GOP threats to force votes on scores of politically fraught amendments.
Democrats have argued that subpoenas are necessary to better understand whether specific individuals and groups have used undisclosed gifts to gain access to the justices. But Republicans have cast the effort as politically motivated.
Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told CNN Wednesday he’s ready for Republicans to again offer up a large batch of amendments and that he’s prepared for the process to take several hours.
The move represents a key point in Senate Democrats’ investigation, which emerged after a series of reports about justices’ failures to report luxury gifts and trips on financial disclosures raised questions about transparency and ethics on the high court.
Alito and Thomas have denied wrongdoing, and the Supreme Court has attempted to bolster the public’s confidence in the institution, announcing a new code of ethics earlier this month. The new code, however, has left many questions unanswered, including how any violations will be enforced.
Leo has thus far refused to cooperate with the inquiry, which sought information from him following a ProPublica report about a 2008 fishing trip attended by Alito. Per the outlet, the justice traveled on a private jet that was organized in part by Leo, while his stay was provided free of charge by Robin Arkley II, another major conservative donor.
The committee asked Leo to provide information about the trip in July, but in a scathing letter via his lawyer, Leo refused to comply. The panel revealed earlier this month that Arkley had submitted requested materials, eliminating the need for a subpoena.
Meanwhile, Crow, who ProPublica reported has provided Thomas with lavish trips and gifts for years – which have mostly gone unreported on the justice’s financial disclosures – attempted to negotiate with the panel.
In response to the committee’s request, Crow agreed to provide some information covering only the last five years of his friendship with the caveat that the committee would have to “forego any further inquiries.” Democrats on the committee rejected his offer, calling it an insufficient “partial” compromise.
If the subpoenas are authorized Thursday, Democrats will still have hurdles ahead. If Leo and Crow choose not to comply, the Senate would be forced to hold a vote to enforce the subpoenas, which might not win the necessary majority.
This story has been updated with additional information.
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CNN’s Ariane de Vogue, Morgan Rimmer and Devan Cole contributed to this report.