A lawyer for the Supreme Court said on Monday that there is no evidence that Justice Samuel Alito leaked the ruling of a major Supreme Court case regarding contraceptives in 2014.
“There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethical standards,” legal counsel for the court Ethan Torrey wrote in a letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).
The two Democratic lawmakers have demanded an investigation into “serious allegations” that surfaced in a New York Times report earlier this month in which a former anti-abortion leader, Rev. Rob Schenck, claimed that he was tipped off about the ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby weeks before it was publicly announced.
Schenck claims that two conservative activists informed him of the case’s outcome after having dinner with Alito and his wife at their home.
Alito authored both the Hobby Lobby opinion — which found for-profit companies have the right to deny contraceptive coverage to employees due to religious objections — and the June 24 opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, which was leaked to POLITICO more than a month before it was made public.
In a statement to the New York Times, Alito said that he and his wife had a “casual and purely social relationship” with conservative donors Gayle and Donald Wright, who are alleged to have learned of the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby at the 2014 dinner a month before the ruling was announced.
“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 wrote in his letter to the two lawmakers.
“The Wrights owned a real estate business in Dayton, Ohio, and to our knowledge, they have never had a financial interest in a matter before the Court,” Torrey added. “In addition, the term ‘gift’ is defined to exclude social hospitality based on personal relationships as well as modest items, such as food and refreshments, offered as a matter of social hospitality.”
In a Nov. 20 letter to the Supreme Court, Whitehouse and Johnson pressed Chief Justice John Roberts on the court’s judicial ethics and gift rules in the wake of Schenck’s allegations, asking if he’s reevaluated court’s policies.
“Recent reporting by the New York Times that the orchestrators of this judicial lobbying campaign may have used their access to certain justices to secure confidential information about pending cases only deepens our concerns about the lack of adequate ethical and legal guardrails at the Court,” the lawmakers wrote.