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

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Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr. denied the former anti-abortion activist’s claim that Alito or his wife told conservative donors about the results of the pending 2014 case on contraception and religious rights.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Rob Schenck, who describes himself on his website as “once a right-wing religious leader but now a dissident evangelical voice,” said he had been told the outcome of the case; Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, a few weeks before it was announced. Schenck said a conservative donor to his organization relayed the information to the justice’s wife after dining with Alito, who wrote the majority opinion in the case.

But the donor, Gail Wright, told the Times that Schenck’s message was not true, and Alito issued a statement denying it as well.

“The claim that Wright was told the outcome of the decision Hobby Lobby the authority of the court’s opinion by me or my wife is a complete lie,” Alito said.

“My wife and I met the Wrights several years ago because of their strong support of the Supreme Court Historical Society, and we have had a casual and purely social relationship ever since,” the statement said. “I have never observed any effort by Wright to obtain confidential information or influence anything I have done in an official or private capacity, and I would strongly object if they did.”

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

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Schenck’s charge comes after an unprecedented leak this spring of Alito’s draft opinion upholding Mississippi’s restrictive abortion law and overturning the constitutional right to an abortion that was upheld. Roe vs. Wade about 50 years ago. Leakage was a shocking breach of the court’s secretive and closely held deliberations, and Alito recently denounced it as a “betrayal of trust.”

The episode added to growing debate about the Supreme Court’s legitimacy and behind-the-scenes operations at a time when the court’s public approval has hit an all-time low.

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. announced an investigation into the origin of the leak soon after it was published in early May, but did not provide further details. Some judges have said in public that they expect a report or updates, but they have not been specific.

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According to the Times, Schenk sent a letter to Roberts in June volunteering information about a 2014 dinner with the Alitos that he did not attend. He wrote that the “series of events” he is uncovering “may affect the investigation you and your delegates are undertaking into the leaking of the draft opinion.”

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 Schenck has publicly exposed what he describes as efforts by Christian conservatives to influence the court’s leadership. Schenck has previously told Politico and Rolling Stone about the efforts he made on behalf of his nonprofit organization, Faith and Action, to appease three of the court’s most conservative justices at the time: Antonin Scalia.

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But a Times report by Jodi Cantor and Joe Becker said Schenck previously did not share the allegations, knowing in advance of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case, which ruled that family-owned businesses did not have to provide certain contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act. insurance requirements.

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“The evidence of Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach is flawed,” the reporters write. “However, during months of investigating Mr. Schenck’s claims, the Times found a trail of timely emails and conversations that strongly suggest he knew the outcome and authorship of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was published.”

Schenck provided a letter from Gail Wright, who along with her now-deceased husband, Donald, was a major contributor to Schenck’s nonprofit. Schenck told the Times that when he learned in 2014 that the Wrights would be dinner guests for Alito and his wife, Martha-Anne, he asked Gail Wright to find out what she could about the Hobby Lobby case.

A day later, Gail Wright wrote: “Rob, if you want some interesting news, please call. No letter,” the Times reported.

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

Wright disputed Schenck’s story in an interview with the Times. She said she believed she had gotten sick that night at dinner at Alitos’ home in Alexandria, and that Justice had driven her and her husband back to her hotel. That might be the news he wanted to share with Schenck.

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“Being friends or having friendly relations with justice, you know that they never tell you about cases. They’re not allowed,” Wright told the Times. “I won’t ask either. In all my years there has never been a single instance of a justice or a justice’s spouse telling me anything about a decision.”

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The writers were major contributors to the Supreme Court Historical Society, which Schenck says he encouraged his donors to fund.

In his statement, Alito said that was the only way he knew the couple. “I am not aware of any project they have allegedly undertaken for Faith and Action, Faith and Freedom or any similar group, and I would be shocked and offended if these allegations are true,” he said in a statement. in

A liberal group that has pushed for an increase in the size of the Supreme Court to compensate for its new conservative supermajority called on the Senate to study the report.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee must act immediately to investigate Justice Alito’s apparent leak,” said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice. “The whistleblower for this report, the Reverend Rob Schenck, should be called to testify about both the leak and the years-long lobbying effort he once led to groom Alito and other Republican justices.”

Fallon added: “No wonder trust in the judiciary has hit a record low. Structural reforms to the court, including strict new ethics rules, are needed now more than ever.”

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