Nov 29, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Supreme Court defends Justice Alito after leak allegation

 Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in October 2022.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito in October 2022. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Supreme Court in a letter Monday defended Justice Samuel Alito regarding the alleged leak of a 2014 Supreme Court ruling in a landmark religious liberty case.

The big picture: Rev. Rob Schenck, a former anti-abortion leader, previously told the New York Times that he learned of court's 2014 decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby weeks in advance, prompting a review from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

  • In a letter this summer, Schenck told Chief Justice John Roberts that he had learned of the decision — which was authored by Alito — after Donald and Gayle Wright, two donors to Schenck's evangelical nonprofit, shared a meal with Alito and his wife, the Times reported.
  • Alito has said that any suggestion that he or his wife disclosed the 2014 ruling early to anyone was "false."
  • Monday's letter from Ethan Torrey, legal counsel to the court, to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) was in response to the two lawmaker's previous letter to the court asking Roberts whether any action had been taken over the alleged 2014 leak.

What they're saying: "Justice Alito has said that neither he nor Mrs. Alito told the Wrights about the outcome of the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or about the authorship of the opinion of the Court," Torrey wrote to the two lawmakers.

  • "Gail Wright has denied Mr. Schenck’s allegation in multiple interviews, saying the account given by Mr. Schenck was 'patently not true'," the letter continues.
  • "Mr. Schenck’s allegation that Justice Alito or Mrs. Alito gave the Wrights advance word about the outcome in Hobby Lobby or the authorship of the Court's opinion is also uncorroborated."
  • "There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethics standards."

Background: After the Times published the story, Whitehouse and Johnson (D-Ga.) joined Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in calling for legislation requiring a code of ethics for Supreme Court justices.

  • The allegation over the leaked 2014 decision came after the draft opinion of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization — which was also written by Alito — was leaked in May.
  • That opinion officially overturned Roe v. Wade and effectively ended all federal protections on abortion in June.
  • In October, Alito called the leak of the Dobbs decision a "grave betrayal of trust by somebody" and said it made the court's conservative justices "targets for assassination."

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