The Supreme Court is officially defending Justice Samuel Alito over accusations that he leaked the outcome of a landmark 2014 case.
What are the accusations?
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a letter written to Chief Justice John Roberts in July in which Rev. Rob Schenck accused Alito of leaking the outcome of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. to a mutual friend before the court announced its ruling.
The New York Times did not provide direct evidence to corroborate the allegations but did point to circumstantial evidence.
Still, Alito denied the allegations, as did the central figure in the story, Gail Wright, a mutual friend of Alito and Schenck.
After the Times’ story, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) sent a joint letter to the Supreme Court demanding answers to the allegations and whether Alito had committed ethical violations.
What did the Supreme Court say?
Supreme Court legal counsel Ethan Torrey responded to the letter on Monday by defending Alito from the allegations.
“Justice Alito has said that neither he nor Mrs. Alito told the Wrights about the outcome of the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or about the authorship of the opinion of the Court,” Torrey explained. “Gail Wright has denied Mr. Schenck’s allegation in multiple interviews, saying the account given by Mr. Schenck was ‘patently not true.'”
“Mr. Schenck’s allegation that Justice Alito or Mrs. Alito gave the Wrights advance word about the outcome in Hobby Lobby or the authorship of the Court’s opinion is also uncorroborated,” Torrey declared.
If doubt from key players in the story — Alito and Wright — and a lack of direct evidence are not enough to squash the allegations, Torrey also pointed to the fact that Politico, which leaked Alito’s opinion of the case that overturned Roe v. Wade, was aware of the allegations but chose not to publish them over a lack of evidence.
Politico reports that despite several months of effort, the publication was “unable to locate anyone who heard about the decision directly from either [Justice] Alito or his wife before its release at the end of June 2014.” The New York Times stated that “the evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps.”
What was the response?
Whitehouse and Johnson responded to the letter on Tuesday by complaining that it “did not substantively answer” their questions.
“Through legal counsel, the Supreme Court reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions,” the lawmakers said. “The Court’s letter is an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues.
“The assertions of fact by the Court’s lawyer emerge from darkness, and overlook important facts like all the contemporaneous evidence that Mr. Schenck in fact knew both the outcome and author in advance and acted at that time on that knowledge,” they added, overlooking the important fact that no direct evidence corroborates the allegations.