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

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A former anti-abortion activist accused Alito or his wife of disclosing to conservative donors the outcome of a pending 2014 case involving contraception and religious rights, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. refused.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Rob Schenck describes himself on his website as “once a right-wing religious leader but now a dissenting evangelical voice.” Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, weeks before it was announced. Schenck said a conservative donor to his organization made the announcement after a dinner with Alito and the wife of the judge who wrote the majority opinion in the case.

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

“Allegation that the Wrights were told the outcome of the verdict Hobby Lobby The case, or the authorship of the Court’s opinion, is completely false by me or my wife,” Alito said.

“My wife and I became acquainted with the Wrights several years ago because of their strong support of the Supreme Court Historical Society, and since then we have maintained a casual and purely social relationship,” the statement said. “I never detected any attempt by the Wrights to obtain confidential information or to influence anything I did, whether official or private, and if they had done so I would have strongly objected.”

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In response to questions Saturday about Alito and Wright’s denials, Schenck confirmed in a 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 of Alito’s draft opinion this spring upholding a restrictive Mississippi abortion law and revoking the constitutional right to an abortion. Roe v. Wade About 50 years ago. leaking It was a shocking breach of the court’s secretive and closely held deliberations, which Alito recently denounced as a “serious betrayal of trust.”

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

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. announced an investigation into the origin of the leak after it was announced in early May, but provided no further details. Some judges have said they expect a report or an update when they appear publicly, but they’re not specific.

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According to the Times, Schenck sent a letter to Roberts in June volunteering information about a 2014 dinner with Alitos, which he did not attend. He wrote that the “series of events” he was uncovering “could hinder your and your representatives’ investigation into the leak of a draft opinion.”

Schenck told the Times that Roberts was unresponsive. A court spokeswoman declined to provide the letter or comment on the progress of the leak investigation.

This is not the first time Schenk has publicly exposed what he describes as efforts by Christian conservatives to influence the court’s direction. Schenck has told Politico and Rolling Stone in the past about his efforts at his nonprofit, Faith and Action, to ingratiate himself with Alito, Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justices Alito, the three most conservative justices on the court at the time. Antonin Scalia.

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But a Times report by Jodi Kantor and Joe Becker said Schenck did not share earlier allegations that he knew in advance the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case, and that family-owned businesses are not required to offer certain contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act. Insurance requirements.

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“There are gaps in the evidence in Mr. Schenck’s record of misconduct,” the reporters wrote. “But in the months of investigating Mr. Schenck’s claims, the Times discovered a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested he knew the outcome of the Hobby Lobby decision and its author before it was made public.”

Schenck provided an email from Gail Wright, who along with her now-deceased husband, Donald, were major contributors to Schenck’s nonprofit. Schenck told the Times that in 2014, when he learned that the Wrights would be attending a dinner party for Alito and his wife, Martha-Anne, he asked Gail Wright to learn what she could about the hobby lobbying case.

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

According to the Times report, Schenck said Wright told him that the decision would favor the hobby lobby and that Justice Alito had written 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 was ill during dinner at Alitos’ home in Alexandria that night, and Justice drove her and her husband back to their hotel. Maybe that was the news she wanted to share with Schenck.

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“Being a friend or having a friendly relationship with a judge, you know they will never tell you about the cases. They’re not allowed to do that,” Wright told the Times. “I’m not asking. There was never a time in my entire life when a justice or a justice’s spouse told me anything about a decision. “

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

In his statement, Alito said it was the only way he knew the couple. “I am not aware of any project they claim to have done for Faith and Action, Faith and Freedom or any other similar group and I would be shocked and outraged if the allegations were true,” his statement said.

A liberal group advocating increasing the size of the Supreme Court to offset its new conservative supermajority asked the Senate to look into the report.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee must take immediate action to investigate the apparent leak by Justice Alito,” said Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon. “The whistleblower in this report, the Reverend Rob Schenck, should be called to testify about both the leak and his years of lobbying efforts that once led to the impeachment of Alito and other Republican justices.”

Fallon added: “It’s no surprise that trust in the courts is at a record low. Structural reform of the judiciary, including tough new ethics rules, is needed now more than ever.”

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