Over 60 progressive and Democratically-aligned groups are urging Senate Judiciary Committee leaders to open an investigation into recent allegations that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito leaked the outcome of a landmark 2014 case — concerning contraception and right-wing Christian company Hobby Lobby — to conservative evangelical lobbyists weeks before the decision was officially announced.
In a letter sent to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) and federal court subcommittee chair Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island), the organizations raise alarm over recent findings that conservative Supreme Court justices had regularly met with wealthy donors to right-wing evangelical group Faith and Action for years — and, at one point, evidently told donors the outcome of a pending case, allowing conservative groups to prepare a public relations response.
The details of the alleged leak, and Alito’s supposed role in the breach, are especially germane to current ethical concerns regarding the leak of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v. Jackson decision earlier this year. An investigation could uncover crucial details on the access to the Supreme Court that right-wing justices have allegedly been giving conservative lobbyists for years.
“Justice Alito’s alleged leak of the outcome of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby calls for a thorough investigation and, if true, constitutes a shocking betrayal of the Court’s confidences that deserves immediate accountability,” the groups wrote. The letter is signed by groups like Center for American Progress (CAP), Demand Justice, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
In a recent New York Times report, former Faith and Action leader Rev. Rob Schenck says that Alito told some of his donors of the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby — which Alito himself was writing — weeks before it was announced. Schenck was able to use the leak in order to tip off the president of Hobby Lobby, allowing the company and the conservative groups who backed it in the case to prepare a public relations push around the decision.
The Court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, setting a precedent for the supposed religious rights of employers and striking down a requirement for employers to cover certain contraception in health plans under the Affordable Care Act. This was a major win for conservative activists — one that would portend this year’s overturn of Roe v. Wade, which was, in part, the result of years of lobbying from the anti-abortion, evangelical right.
The alleged leak has ties to the leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision that rocked the country in May: Both leaks involved landmark cases surrounding fundamental reproductive rights, and both leaks emboldened right-wing activists who had been fighting for the erosion of those rights.
It’s still unclear who leaked the Dobbs decision, though legal experts and progressives have speculated that the connections between the two cases aren’t coincidental. Alito has denied Schenck’s account.
Further, the alleged leak was only one incident in a long and close relationship that Faith and Action enjoyed with Alito and fellow right-wingers Justice Clarence Thomas and deceased Justice Antonin Scalia. For over 20 years, Schenck, who says he now regrets his actions, would arrange dinners between the justices and his right-wing donors, who were coached to push conservative talking points in order to influence the justices’ decisions, Schenck told Politico earlier this year.
Supreme Court watchdogs have long maintained that the Court needs to be held to a binding ethics code, and the letter writers say that the explosive allegations over justices’ relationships with right-wing lobbyists only further justify that viewpoint.
“This lobbying effort by Faith and Action, as well as the apparent acquiescence of Justices Alito, Thomas and Scalia to it, pose serious ethical concerns and serve as a stark reminder that Supreme Court justices must be held to account,” they continued. “It is a disservice to the American people that the justices of our highest Court are not bound by a code of ethics, unlike every other federal judge in the country.”