Two senators are pledging to investigate the allegation from a bombshell New York Times report that Justice Samuel Alito leaked the outcome of a key birth control case to evangelical activists almost a decade ago. Alito wrote the opinion in that case, Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, as he did the opinion in this year’s case overturning Roe v. Wade, a draft of which leaked in May. Alito called that leak a “grave betrayal” that made the conservative justices “targets for assassination.”
Former anti-abortion activist Rev. Rob Schenck sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts in July saying that Alito shared the outcome of the case—that for-profit companies insurance plans didn’t have to cover birth control under Obamacare if they objected for religious reasons—with a conservative donor who dined at his home. Schenck sent it because of the investigation into the leaked Roe draft, but never got a response. Then the Times reported out the story, which Alito denies.
But the alleged leak isn’t the only issue here: The Times laid out a vast network of influence peddling where people who donated to the Supreme Court Historical Society got direct access to the Justices at the group’s functions. Schenck himself encouraged conservative activists to do this, though the Times report suggests that only Justices Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas were ever really amendable to it.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that his committee is reviewing the allegations and urged Congress to pass a bill that would impose a code of ethics on the Supreme Court, because—you guessed it—it doesn’t have one. Durbin said, “It is unacceptable that members of the highest court in the land are exempted from the judicial code of ethics when wealthy special interests are spending millions of dollars in dark money to influence the Court’s decisions.”
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga), who both chair subcommittees on the courts, took the additional step of writing to Justice Roberts on Sunday to ask whether he’d looked into the allegation in Schenck’s letter and suggested they’d launch their own investigation if not. They called the Times report “another black mark on the Supreme Court’s increasingly marred ethical record.” (Cough, Ginni Thomas, cough.)
Court reform group Demand Justice called for a Senate Judiciary investigation and for Schenck to testify about the alleged leak and the vast campaign to lobby Justices.
“This bombshell report is the latest proof that the Republican justices on the court are little more than politicians in robes,” said Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon. “It’s no wonder trust in the court has hit a record low. Structural reform of the court, including strict new ethics rules, is needed now more than ever.”