High-ranking Democrats are requesting a response from the Supreme Court in response to claims that Justice Samuel Alito gave conservative activists access to the outcome of a 2014 case, which they claim exposes an “inexcusable Supreme Court loophole in ethics rules.”
Alito has said the accusation is “completely false” and denied leaking the opinion. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia, however, requested more information from Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court in a letter they sent on Sunday.
Whitehouse and Johnson claimed that a letter sent to Roberts in July by a former conservative activist accusing Alito of leaking the outcome of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case before it was decided raises important ethical issues that the court must resolve.
“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 cases that were still pending only deepens our concerns about the lack of adequate ethical and legal guardrails at the Court,” wrote Johnson and Whitehouse.
They continued, “In addition, it appears that the Court was made aware of these allegations as early as July 2022, when Chief Justice Roberts received a letter from the former head of this lobbying operation.
The lawmakers pressed Roberts to respond to questions about whether the court has “opened an investigation” into allegations that Alito leaked the Hobby Lobby decision, that activists sought to influence the justices’ decisions by dining with them and taking them on trips, and that donations to and membership in the Supreme Court Historical Society are being used to influence cases.
Whitehouse and Johnson also cited a previous letter they wrote to Roberts in which they questioned him about possible unethical or illegal behavior on the part of Supreme Court justices.
Alito has categorically denied that he told conservative donor Gayle Wright the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case. Robert Schneck, a former figurehead for the conservative religious movement, claimed in a letter to The Times that Wright had informed him of the case’s resolution.
The claim that Alito or his wife told the Wrights the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case’s ruling or who wrote the court’s opinion is wholly untrue, Alito stated. Because of the Wrights’ ardent support for the Supreme Court Historical Society, my wife and I first met them a number of years ago. Since then, our relationship has been casual and purely social.
The Wrights never made an attempt to find out confidential information or to sway anything I did in my official or personal capacity, and Alito continued, “I would have strongly objected if they had done so. “I have no knowledge of any project that they allegedly undertook for ‘Faith and Action,’ ‘Faith and Liberty,’ or any similar group, and I would be shocked and offended if those allegations are true.”
Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, also has an opinion on the matter and says Congress may pass legislation imposing stricter ethics guidelines for justices.
These serious allegations, which once again show the unacceptable “Supreme Court loophole” in federal judicial ethics rules, are being looked into by the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Durbin.
Durbin continued, “It is unacceptable that justices on the nation’s highest court are exempt from the judicial code of ethics. The Supreme Court Ethics Act proposed by Senator Murphy, which would compel the court to establish a code of conduct for its justices, should be passed by Congress.
As the Supreme Court continues to investigate who leaked the outcome of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Supreme Court decision earlier this year, before the case was decided, these accusations against Alito are made.
Roberts tasked the Supreme Court marshal with looking into the origins of the leaked draft opinion. “A singular and egregious breach of that trust that is an affront to the Court and the community of public servants who work here,” he said, calling the leak “a betrayal of the confidences of the Court.”
In July, Fox News reported that the investigation had focused on a smaller group of individuals, and in September, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated at a legal conference in Colorado that he anticipated a report.