The Supreme Court just knocked down unsupported allegations that Justice Samuel Alito prematurely leaked the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 to conservative activists who’d unethically lobbied him, Fox News reported.
Multiple media outlets ran with the bombshell allegations in recent weeks, even as they acknowledged the claims were unverified, and that was apparently enough to prompt Democratic lawmakers to press the Supreme Court with demands for answers and threats of adverse action to compel compliance with those demands.
It was the New York Times that first reported how former pro-life activist Rev. Robert Schenck only recently alleged that Justice Alito, who authored the 2014 Hobby Lobby decision that struck down Obamacare’s contraception mandate for private businesses, had leaked that decision weeks prior to public release to a fellow conservative activist and a mutual friend named Gail Wright.
Politico and Rolling Stone soon piled on by rehashing that allegation along with broader claims of a concerted effort by conservative activists to ingratiate themselves with and unethically lobby the conservative justices on the Supreme Court to try to gain insight and influence rulings.
Those assertions from the media led to a joint letter to the Supreme Court from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), the respective chairs of the Senate and House Judiciary Courts Subcommittees, who demanded answers and threatened congressional probes if their demands weren’t swiftly satisfied.
Court claims Alito didn’t leak or violate ethics rules
Supreme Court legal counsel Ethan Torrey on Monday sent a two-page response letter to the Democratic lawmakers that reiterated the repeated denials of the allegations by both Justice Alito and Wright, who had known each other for years and had a “casual and purely social relationship.”
“The Justice never detected any effort on the part of the Wrights to obtain confidential information or to influence anything he did in either an official or personal capacity,” the letter continued.
Torrey further noted that Schenck’s allegations were “uncorroborated” and highlighted the fact that the Times had acknowledged “gaps” in Schenck’s accounts and Politico admitted that, despite months of digging, it had been “unable to locate anyone who heard about the decision” from Alito or his wife prior to its public release in 2014.
“There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethics standards,” the attorney wrote of the lobbying allegations. “Relevant rules balance preventing gifts that might undermine public confidence in the judiciary and allowing judges to maintain normal personal friendships.”
Dems dismiss response
Predictably, the response letter from Torrey did not satisfy the Democratic lawmakers Whitehouse and Johnson, as they fired off yet another baselessly accusatory joint statement in reply, according to Politico.
“Through legal counsel, the Supreme Court reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions,” they asserted. “The Court’s letter is an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues. Unlike all other federal courts, there is no formal process for complaints; it took a Senator’s and a Congressman’s repeated letters to galvanize a response.”
Whitehouse and Johnson are just two of many Democrats in Congress who, for clearly partisan purposes in light of the current ideological balance of the Supreme Court, have insisted that more legislative oversight and restrictive ethical standards must be imposed upon the nation’s highest court