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Samuel Alito

Associate Justice Samuel Alito sits during a group photo of the Justices at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2021. (Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

Calls for Ethics Probe Follow Bombshell Report of Right-Wing Attempts to Influence Supreme Court

"It's no wonder trust in the Court has hit a record low," said one critic. "Structural reform of the Court, including strict new ethics rules, is needed now more than ever."

Julia Conley

Advocates for court reform on Saturday called for Congress to investigate allegations that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito leaked a 2014 ruling to a right-wing donor, after The New York Times reported on the claim by a former leader of the pro-forced pregnancy movement.

Rev. Ron Schenck led an evangelical Christian nonprofit organization in 2014 when the court ruled on Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, which allowed religious organizations to deny employees healthcare coverage for contraception.

The Times spent months investigating Schenck's claim—which he also detailed in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts in June—that Alito leaked the court's decision in the case to one of his top donors, three weeks before the ruling was publicly announced.

"This bombshell report is the latest proof that the Republican justices on the Court are little more than politicians in robes."

Schenck used his knowledge of the ruling to "prepare a public relations push," the Times reported, as well as telling the president of Hobby Lobby about it.

During his time as a crusader against abortion rights—an issue on which he's since changed his viewpoint—Schenck "recruited wealthy donors... encouraging them to invite some of the justices to meals, to their vacation homes, or to private clubs. He advised allies to contribute money to the Supreme Court Historical Society and then mingle with justices at its functions," reported the Times. "He ingratiated himself with court officials who could help give him access, records show."

Schenck sent a letter to Roberts in June—a month after the leak of a draft decision showing the court had voted to overturn Roe v. Wade—saying the information he gained about the Hobby Lobby ruling could be relevant to the court's inquiry into the recent leak. He told the Times he did not receive a response.

The story "strongly suggests Justice Alito leaked the 2014 opinion in Hobby Lobby, and describes a conspiracy by the far-right donor class to influence the Supreme Court Justices," said Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), calling for an investigation by the U.S. House.

Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, which advocates for the expansion of the court and has called for an ethics probe into right-wing Justice Clarence Thomas's alleged conflicts of interest, said the Senate Judiciary Committee "should immediately move to investigate the apparent leak by Justice Alito."

"The whistleblower in this report, Rev. Rob Schenck, should be called to testify about both the leak and the yearslong lobbying effort he once led to cultivate Alito and other Republican justices," he added.

"This bombshell report is the latest proof that the Republican justices on the court are little more than politicians in robes," said Fallon. "It's no wonder trust in the Court has hit a record low. Structural reform of the court, including strict new ethics rules, is needed now more than ever."


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