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Supreme Court Justice Alito denies NYT report that he leaked Hobby Lobby opinion


Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. denied an allegation by a former anti-abortion activist that Alito or his wife disclosed to conservative donors the outcome of an ongoing 2014 case involving contraceptives and religious rights.

The New York Times reported on Saturday that Rob Schenck, who on his website identifies himself as a “once right-wing religious leader but now a dissenting evangelical voice,” said he was briefed on the outcome of the case, Hobby Lobby vs. Burwell, several weeks before its announcement. Schenck said a conservative donor to his organization relayed the information after having dinner with Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in the case, and the judge’s wife.

But the donor, Gayle Wright, told The Times that Schenck’s account was not true, and Alito also released a statement denying it.

“The allegation that the Wrights were informed of the outcome of the decision in the hobby hall case, or the authorship of the Court’s opinion, by me or my wife is completely wrong,” 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,” the statement read. “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. do.”

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In response to questions on Saturday about Alito’s and Wright’s denials, Schenck in a statement confirmed “the many details and facts” he provided in the Times account and declined to comment further.

Schenck’s allegation comes after the unprecedented leak this spring of Alito’s draft opinion upholding a restrictive abortion law in Mississippi and reversing the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe vs. Wade nearly 50 years earlier. The escape was a shocking violation of the court’s secret and tightly held deliberations, and Alito recently denounced it as a “serious betrayal of trust.”

The episode added to a growing debate over the Supreme Court’s legitimacy and behind-the-scenes operations at a time when the court’s public approval has fallen to historic lows.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced an investigation into the origins of the leak shortly after it was published in early May, but provided no further information. Some judges said in public appearances they were waiting for a report or updates, but they weren’t specific.

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According to The Times, Schenck sent a letter to Roberts in June providing information about the 2014 dinner with the Alitos, which he did not attend. He wrote that the “series of events” he was disclosing “may impinge on the investigation you and your delegates are conducting regarding the leaked draft advisory.”

Schenck told The Times that Roberts did not respond. A court spokeswoman declined to provide the letter or comment on the progress of the leak investigation.

This is not the first time that Schenck has publicly revealed what he describes as efforts by Christian conservatives to influence the direction of the court. In the past, Schenck has spoken to Politico and Rolling Stone about efforts he undertook on behalf of his nonprofit, Faith and Action, to ingratiate himself with the three judges who at the time were the most conservative. from the court – Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

But the Times report, by Jodi Kantor and Jo Becker, said Schenck had not previously shared allegations about knowing in advance the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case, which says family businesses were not required to provide certain contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act. insurance requirements.

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“There are gaps in the evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach,” the reporters wrote. “But after months of reviewing Mr. Schenck’s claims, the Times has found a record of contemporary emails and conversations that strongly suggest he knew the outcome and author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it is not made public.”

Schenck provided an email from Gayle Wright, who along with her now deceased husband, Donald, were major contributors to Schenck’s nonprofit. Schenck told The Times that when he learned the Wrights would be dinner guests for Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann, in 2014, he asked Gayle Wright to find out what she could about the ongoing Hobby Lobby case.

A day later, Gayle Wright wrote, “Rob, if you want some interesting news call me. No emails,” the Times reported.

According to the Times report, Schenck said Wright told him the decision would favor Hobby Lobby and that Judge Alito wrote the majority opinion. Three weeks later, Alito delivered the court’s opinion.

Wright disputed Schenck’s account in an interview with The Times. She said she believed she had fallen ill during dinner at the Alitos’ home in Alexandria that evening and that justice had returned her and her husband to her hotel. Maybe that was the news she wanted to share with Schenck.

“Being friends or having a friendly relationship with a judge, you know they never talk to you about the cases. They’re not allowed to,” Wright told The Times. “I wouldn’t ask either. There has never been a time in all my years when a judge or a judge’s spouse said anything to me about a decision.

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The Wrights were major contributors to the Supreme Court Historical Society, which Schenck said was something he encouraged his donors to fund.

In his statement, Alito said it was the only way he would know about the couple. “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 are true,” its statement said. .

A liberal group that has advocated increasing the size of the Supreme Court to compensate for its new conservative supermajority has called on the Senate to consider the report.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee should immediately investigate the apparent flight of Judge Alito,” said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon. “The whistleblower in this report, the Reverend Rob Schenck, should be called to testify to both the leak and the years-long lobbying effort he once led to cultivate Alito and others. Republican judges.”

Fallon added: “It’s no wonder that confidence in the Court has reached an all-time high. Structural reform of the Court, including tough new ethics rules, is needed more than ever.


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