November 27, 2022

ACCOUNTABILITY: Will Justice Alito face consequences for a confirmed SCOTUS Leak?

ACCOUNTABILITY: Will Justice Alito face consequences for a confirmed SCOTUS Leak?

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The spring 2022 leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade wasn’t its first premature divulging of an opinion in advance of its official announcement, according to former anti-abortion activist Rev. Rob Schenck.

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The 64-year-old founder of Faith and Action claims to not only have had prior knowledge of the opinion, but was instrumental in the 2014 decision ruling in favor of the do-it-yourself arts and crafts retail giant Hobby Lobby.

That Scotus decision allowed privately held for-profit corporations to be exempt from the Affordable Care Act mandate that contraception, like birth control pills, be covered by the health insurance coverage provided by private companies.

According to The New York Times, Schenko sent a letter to Chief Justices John Roberts in light of the court’s investigation into the Dobbs leak – making him aware of a previous leak in the high-profile case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, and admitting to being a facilitator of meetings between several Justices, wealthy donors, and Evangelical operatives.

“There is no reason you would remember our brief encounters over the years, but we have met and exchanged pleasantries on several occasions over your tenure at the Court,” the letter begins. “I write to inform you of a series of events that may impinge on the investigation you and your delegates are undertaking in connection with the leak of the draft opinion.

Mr. Schenck wrote that while awaiting the Court’s decision in Burwell, he was told by the wife of a big-money religious donor — Mrs. Gayle Wright — that she and her husband were going to be having dinner with Justice Alito and his wife, Martha – insinuating she may be able to get more information on the upcoming decision.

“I received a follow -up message from her notifying me she had indeed obtained the information during that visit,” Schenck wrote. “We spoke on the phone, and she detailed the revelation. As I recall, we talked about the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, and how they, too, would be interested in this information.”

Schenck and Alito at the 2006 welcome reception after Justice’s confirmation.

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It was during this dinner that the pair was allegedly told by the Federalist Society-associated Judge that the Court’s decision in Burwell would be in favor of Hobby Lobby.

Read the letter below. 

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Mr. Schenck said Mrs. Wright told him that the decision would be favorable to Hobby Lobby and that Justice Alito had written the majority opinion. Three weeks later, that’s exactly what happened.

In 2012, the President of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green, sued Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, and challenged the contraception requirement – arguing violations of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA). Judge Alito delivered the opinion in the 5-4 ruling doing away with the provision and asserting that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does allow for-profit companies to deny contraception coverage to employees based on a religious objection.

Justice Alito admits to dining with Mrs. Gayle Wright and her husband Donald on June 3, 2014, but denies it played a role in his decision just three weeks later, saying that the “allegation that the Wrights were told the outcome of the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or the authorship of the opinion of the court, by me or my wife, is completely false.”

During Supreme Court arguments in the case in March 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Wright had choice seats – those reserved for special guests of Justices Alito and Scalia, who Mrs. Wright intimately referred to as Nino (Scalia), and Sam (Alito).

“We were invited to use seats from Nino and Sam,” she had written to Mr. Schenck days earlier, using nicknames for the justices. “Wow.”

In the interview, Mrs. Wright said she used such seats “all the time” because “Nino and my husband were very good friends.” She was eager to hear the Hobby Lobby arguments, she added because she had an interest in “all cases related to biblical issues.”

For nearly a decade, beginning in the year 2000, Mr. Schenck formulated a clear calculated plan to ingratiate himself into the inner circle of the country’s highest judicial body, encouraging allies to donate to the Supreme Court Historical Society and befriending those close to the Justices like Supreme Court administrator, Perry Thompson, whom Schenck admits to taking advantage of.

“I exploited my friendships,” Mr. Schenck said. “The bad is on me.”

According to Mr. Schenck, he brokered a relationship between the Executive Director of the Historical Society, David Pride, and the President of Hobby Lobby, Steve Green – with Pride escorting Green to the annual Christmas party of SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts.

“We should consult about what you might like me to promote on your behalf to Mr. Greene. Do you have a particular project  or the like that you’d like me o talk up? Or just extol your many vitues to him?” Schenck wrote.

It wasn’t long before the Green family made their motivations known – to overturn the ACA’s contraception mandate.

Mr. Pride spoke fondly of his relationship with Rob Schenck, saying in an interview, “Anytime a member of the society – and Rob was a member, and also a close friend – wanted help, I always did what I could.”

The former conservative religious leader confessed to visiting  Justices Scalia and Thomas in chambers and praying with the far-right judges, using phrases like “the sanctity of human life” to shape the evangelical’s political messaging.

Schenck’s role reversal — from anti-abortion chaos agent and behind-the-scenes agitator — to exposing the court’s complicity and corruption and openness to being compromised by like-minded ideological forces — is too little, too late.

The consequences of the Dobbs decision have already changed the course of America moving forward, and Mr. Schenck played a huge role in that with his actions over the decades.

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The current Supreme Court’s reputation is tarnished by such a leak, and its legitimacy will remain in question until the balance has been restored.

Read Schenck’s letter to Chief Justice Roberts here.

Original reporting by Jodi Kantor and Jo Becket at The New York Times.

Follow Ty Ross on Twitter @cooltxchick

Ty Ross

News journalist for Washington Press and Occupy Democrats.

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