A Supreme Court ethics attorney responded on Roberts’ behalf earlier this month, recounting some of the court’s policies and practices in the area, but offering no details about the lobbying campaign.
“An answer pointing to the existence of rules does not answer questions about whether those rules have been broken,” Whitehouse and Johnson wrote in their new letter Sunday, which was obtained exclusively by POLITICO. “It appears that the underlying problem is the lack of a formal complaint or investigation mechanism for possible ethics or reporting violations. …. If the Court, as your letter suggests, n is unwilling to undertake investigative inquiries into possible ethics violations, this leaves Congress as the only forum.
A spokesperson for the Supreme Court did not immediately respond to a message Sunday evening seeking comment on the letter.
Lawmakers said their latest missive to Roberts was prompted in part by a report Saturday in The New York Times about a former anti-abortion campaigner’s claim that he was given advance notice of the outcome in 2014 of a case of great interest to social conservatives. The case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobbyled to a ruling written by Judge Samuel Alito that religious owners of closed businesses were not required to comply with all of the Affordable Care Act’s requirements for contraceptive coverage.
Reverend Rob Schenck, a former evangelical minister who has since changed his name, said he was alerted to the outcome of the case and the authorship of Alito’s opinion several weeks before the opinion. not be made public by the court. Schenck said his information came from a dinner a wealthy couple had with Alito and his wife, Martha-Ann Alito, at the Alitos’ home in Virginia after making large donations to the Supreme Court Historical Society.
Alito categorically denied that he or his wife were responsible for any leaks. A member of the couple who dined with the Alitos that night, Gayle Wright, also denied passing on the outcome of the case to Schenck. Her husband, Ohio real estate developer Don Wright, died in 2020.
POLITICO investigated the alleged leak for several months and was unable to locate anyone claiming to have had direct knowledge of a premature disclosure of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case by Judge Alito or his wife. However, there is circumstantial evidence that Schenck had, or believed he had, announced the outcome of the case in advance and who was writing it.
Schenck wrote to Roberts in July, reporting on the alleged leak eight years ago. He said the court may wish to assess this episode as it considers how to deal the much more publicized disclosure in May by POLITICO of a stunning Alito draft opinion Roe vs. Wade.
The court did not comment on Schenck’s letter or whether an investigation was conducted into the 2014 leak, but the new letter from Whitehouse and Johnson asks Roberts to explain whether the court has “reevaluated any of its practices , procedures or rules related to judicial ethics”. , or the Receipt and Reporting of Gifts and Travel by Judges” following recent news reports and Schenck’s letter.
Whitehouse and Johnson also expressed concern that some donors to the Supreme Court Historical Society, a nonprofit educational organization with close ties to the court, tried to use the society’s events to get close to the judges.
“Who is responsible for monitoring the relationship between the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court Historical Society to ensure that paid membership in the Society is not used as a means of exerting undue influence?” lawmakers asked.
A company official did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday evening.
Whitehouse, a vociferous critic of what he claims is the politicization of the Supreme Court, is well-positioned to address such concerns in his capacity as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on federal courts, oversight, justice. agency action and federal rights.
Johnson leads a similar subcommittee on the House side, but its ability to dig deeper into issues may soon be limited, with Republicans expected to take control of House committees in January due to the early midterm election result. of the month.