U.S. Supreme Court defends Alito over a second leak report
Court defends Alito: The legal counsel for the United States Supreme Court defended Justice Samuel Alito on Monday after two Democratic lawmakers demanded answers about a former anti-abortion leader’s claim that he was told in advance about the outcome of a major 2014 ruling the conservative jurist wrote in a contraception case.
In a letter to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and Representative Hank Johnson, legal counsel Ethan Torrey wrote, “There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethical standards.” The issue was a Nov. 19 New York Times report quoting Christian minister Rob Schenck as saying he was informed of the 2014 ruling weeks before its public announcement after two of his conservative allies dined at Alito and his wife’s home.
The court has not yet disclosed the results of the investigation announced by Chief Justice John Roberts into the May leak of a draught decision overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Torrey, whose role is to support the nine justices on case-related matters and provide legal services for the court as an institution, wrote in his letter that Alito has already stated that neither he nor his wife disclosed the decision in that case and that the allegation is unsubstantiated.
“Applicable rules strike a balance between preventing gifts that could undermine public confidence in the judiciary and permitting judges to maintain normal personal friendships,” wrote Torrey. Similar to the June abortion decision, the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision represented a victory for religious conservatives. The Hobby Lobby decision exempted family-owned businesses with religious objections from a federal mandate that any health insurance they offer their female employees must cover contraception.
Torrey was responding to a letter sent to Roberts on November 20 by Whitehouse and Johnson inquiring whether the court is investigating the claims involving Schenck or reevaluating its judicial ethics practices.
The lawmakers wrote in their letter, “It appears that the underlying issue is the lack of a formal facility for complaints or investigations into possible ethics or reporting violations.”
In a joint statement on Monday, Whitehouse and Johnson said Torrey’s letter “reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions.” They called the letter “an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues.”
Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has stated that his committee is examining the issue. Durbin advocated for the passage of legislation that would establish an ethical code for the Supreme Court.
Schenck, a former leader of a Washington-based evangelical Christian nonprofit organization, was quoted as saying he used his knowledge of the Hobby Lobby ruling to prepare a public relations campaign and also informed the president of the craft store chain about the decision. According to the Times, Schenck wrote to Roberts regarding his claim.
Schenck described in the Times article how two of his prominent donors, Donald and Gayle Wright of Ohio, dined with the Alitos in early June 2014. Schenck claimed that one of the Wrights told him that Alito had written the Hobby Lobby opinion and that it would be favorable to the company, as reported by the newspaper. The conclusion was made public three weeks later.
Alito stated in a statement issued after the Times article was published that he and his wife have a “purely social relationship” with the Wrights and that he would have strongly objected to any attempt to obtain confidential information.
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