Court Battles

Lawmakers say Supreme Court response on alleged 2014 leak ‘did not substantively answer any of our questions’

AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib
The Supreme Court building in Washington is seen on Nov. 8, 2022.

Two Democratic lawmakers said the Supreme Court “did not substantively answer” their questions about an alleged 2014 leak of a ruling in its response to a letter they sent earlier this month. 

Sen. Sheldon Whithouse (R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (Ga.) said in a statement on Tuesday that the court repeated the denials from Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that neither he nor his wife leaked the court’s ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby but did not provide additional details as requested. 

“Through legal counsel, the Supreme Court reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions,” they said. “The Court’s letter is an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues.” 

Controversy arose after a New York Times report earlier this month that the former leader of an evangelical nonprofit, the Rev. Rob Schenck, learned of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case from a donor to his organization shortly before the ruling was released. The donor had a meal with Alito and his wife before reaching out to Schenck to share the information, Schenck claims. 

The court ruled 5-4 in the case that for-profit companies can deny contraception coverage in their employees’ health insurance plans based on religious objections. 

Whitehouse and Johnson sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts after the report to demand answers about Schenck’s allegations and urged the court to launch an inquiry into possible ethical violations. The two lawmakers previously sent a letter to Roberts in September to raise concerns about a religious group trying to lobby some of the justices. 

Schenck also told the Times of his efforts to recruit wealthy donors to invite justices for meals and contribute money to the Supreme Court Historical Society and then interact with justices at events. 

Ethan Torrey, the legal counsel for the Supreme Court, told Whitehouse and Johnson in a letter on Monday that was obtained by the Times that Alito denies the allegations and that the donor Schenck mentioned, Gayle Wright, has denied the account. 

Torrey said Alito and his wife did not receive any reportable gifts from Wright and that rules preventing gifts to justices do not include “social hospitality” from personal relationships like food. 

Whitehouse and Johnson said in their statement that Torrey’s assertions of fact “emerge from darkness” and overlook “important facts” like the evidence that Schenck knew the outcome and author of the ruling, Alito, in advance and acted on that knowledge at the time. 

They said that the Supreme Court has no formal process for independent review, unlike other federal courts, violating the principle that “no one should judge their own cause.” 

The Senate Judiciary Committee is reviewing the allegations.

Tags Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Hank Johnson Hank Johnson John Roberts Rob Schenck Rob Schenck Samuel Alito Samuel Alito Sheldon Whitehouse Supreme Court Supreme Court leak
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