The Supreme Court on Monday rejected allegations that Justice Samuel Alito tipped off conservative activists to the outcome of a landmark religious freedom case in 2014 before the opinion was issued by the court.
“There is nothing to suggest that Justice Alito’s actions violated ethical standards,” Ethan Torrey, legal counsel for the Supreme Court, wrote in a letter sent Monday to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
The two lawmakers, who chair the Senate and House Judiciary Courts Subcommittees, wrote to Chief Justice Roberts this month looking for answers after the New York Times reported that conservative activist Robert Schenck claimed Alito previewed the outcome of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In that case, the Supreme Court decided that a contraception mandate violated the religious freedom of some business owners.
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Torrey noted that The New York Times stated in their story that “the evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps,” and that Politico reported 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.”
Torrey also said that Gail Wright, a friend of Schenck’s who also supposedly heard the news from Alito first, has denied the claims and said Schenck’s account was “patently not true.”
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“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,” Torrey wrote. He added that “relevant rules balance preventing gifts that might undermine public confidence in the judiciary and allowing judges to maintain normal personal friendships.”
Justice Alito immediately denied the New York Times report in a Nov. 19 statement.
“The allegation that the Wrights were told the outcome of the decision in the Hobby Lobby case, or the authorship of the opinion of the Court, by me or my wife is completely false. My wife and I became acquainted with the Wrights some years ago because of their strong support for the Supreme Court Historical Society, and since then, we have had a casual and purely social relationship.”
“I never detected any effort on the part of the Wrights to obtain confidential information or to influence anything that I did in either an official or private capacity, and 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,” Alito said.
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