Judge Alito denies leak allegation in 2014 birth control access case
On Saturday, the New York Times published claims by the Reverend Rob Schenck regarding another controversial case – the 2014 High Court ruling on the rights of religious business owners to deny coverage for certain contraceptives under Obamacare – Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius. Schenck, once an evangelical minister and prominent anti-abortion campaigner, has since become disillusioned with the religious right, changed his faith and now says he regrets many of his past activities.
POLITICO spent several months trying to corroborate Schenck’s claim published Saturday in The Times about a leaked Hobby Lobby decision, but was unable to locate anyone who heard of the decision directly from Alito or of his wife before its publication at the end of June 2014.
In July, POLITICO published an account of Schenck’s efforts to encourage more strictly conservative Supreme Court rulings. Part of the multi-faceted plan – dubbed “Operation Higher Court” – involved trying to gain access to the judges through various means, including getting religious couples from across the United States to connect with the judges and seek out opportunities to socialize with them when fundraising. events and even at home.
Schenck claims he was informed of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case by Gayle Wright, the wife of wealthy real estate developer and founder of a successful furniture company, Don Wright. As POLITICO previously reported, the Wrights were part of “Operation Higher Court.”
In a letter Schenck was sent to Chief Justice John Roberts in July and shared with The Times, Schenck claimed he became aware of the “status” of the Hobby Lobby case after donors to Schenck’s group, “Faith and Action”, were invited to dinner at the Alitos. in Alexandria, Va., one evening in 2014. Schenck told the newspaper that Gayle Wright was the donor who relayed the information.
In a statement, Alito acknowledged socializing with the Wrights, but flatly denied that he or his wife, Martha-Ann, were behind any leaks.
“The allegation that the Wrights were informed of the outcome of the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or the authorship of the Court’s opinion, by me or my wife is completely false,” Alito said.
“My wife and I got to know the Wrights a few years ago because of their strong support for the Supreme Court Historical Society, and since then we’ve had a casual, purely social relationship. I never detected any effort on the part of the Wrights to obtain confidential information or to influence anything I did in an official or private capacity, and I would have strongly objected if they had done so. I am not aware of any projects they have undertaken for “Faith and Action”, “Faith and Freedom” or any other similar group, and I would be shocked and offended if these allegations were true. »
Wright also denied the claim on Saturday. “It’s all incredibly misconstrued,” she said. told CNN, adding that the account that she had received a leak from the Alitos was “obviously false”. “Cases are never discussed, everyone knows that,” Wright added. Wright did not respond to a request for comment.
Schenck has publicly claimed to have been aware of a Supreme Court decision authored by Alito in recent months, writing on Facebook after POLITICO posted the draft decision in the Dobbs abortion case that he had been aware of an early disclosure.
He wrote that he remembered “another highly controversial opinion from Alito that had already leaked – and it came straight from the judge himself. (Never mind how I know, but I know firsthand),” Schenck posted about a day and a half after the POLITICO scoop. “So it occurred to me that a leak is not as rare as people think.”
There is, however, ample circumstantial evidence that indicates that Schenck had prior indications of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case.
Alito’s decision was the second decision published that day, following another opinion he wrote in a closely watched Illinois labor affair. Recordings of morning op-eds indicate that Alito started issuing the Hobby Lobby notice around 10:16 a.m., but did not finish until 10:32 a.m.
“Judge Alito seems to be finishing his summary. No word yet on a possible dissent from the bench,” SCOTUSblog writer Amy Howe said on the site’s live blog at 10:29 a.m. that day.
However, Schenck’s group published media advisory praising Alito’s decision and summoning members of the press to a prayer service scheduled for 10:30 a.m. that morning.
The Faith and Action announcement also contains unusually defensive language pointing out that Schenck obtained the notice through official channels.
“‘It’s a good day in America,’ Reverend Schenck said, after listening to the majority opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito and examining a printout from the Office of the Clerk of the Court,” according to the group’s press release.
The media advisory said Schenck had reviewed an official copy of the opinion, but he can be heard on a C-Span recording after it came out looking for one to review.
“I need the decision. … I need the decision,” Schenck insists on a C-SPAN record as he kicked off a press conference at the foot of the Supreme Court steps.
“You just spoke,” Schenck’s twin brother Paul, a Catholic priest, chimes in over his shoulder.
“In a moment, I expect to have the slippery decision in my hands,” Rob Schenck then says, before pointing out that the two men have just walked out of the courtroom and heard Alito deliver the court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby.
Several Democratic lawmakers reacted with concern to Scheneck’s claims about prompt disclosure of the decision.
“The Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing these serious allegations,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement calling for the passage of legislation mandating a mandatory code of ethics. at the High Court.
Senate Judiciary Committee member Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) and House Judiciary Committee member Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) revealed Saturday that, following previous reports from POLITICO and an article in Rolling Stone, they had raised concerns about undesirable influence. in the field directly with Chief Justice Roberts.
“The existence and scope of this judicial lobbying campaign is alarming and further confirms the need for the judiciary to adopt stricter ethical requirements as soon as possible,” Whitehouse and Johnson said. wrote at Roberts on September 7. Litigants and the American public deserve to know when and how private groups attempt to influence litigation by offering Supreme Court justices lavish dinners or hunting trips. These concerns are particularly acute if counsel for these lobbyists also pleads before these judges in court, as may be the case here.
Roberts responded through an assistant, offering a two-page statement on the Supreme Court’s ethical practices and without answering most of the specific questions posed by lawmakers.