A former anti-abortion activist has claimed that long before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the outcome of another decision involving contraception and religious freedom was leaked.
In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, reported by the New York Times, the Rev. Rob Schenck alleges that he was informed of the court’s opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby three weeks before the decision was released in 2014. The court decided in that case that for-profit companies can deny contraception coverage to employees based on religious objections.
Schenck says in the letter that Gayle Wright, a donor to his evangelical nonprofit, Faith and Action, told him she would be dining with Associate Justice Samuel Alito and his wife and that she thought she could learn the status of the case.
Wright later told Schenck what she learned, that the company would prevail in the case, according to the Times. Schenck said in the letter he used that information to prepare public relations material. He tipped off Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, days before the opinion was released, hoping to cultivate him as a donor, according to the Times.
In a statement to USA TODAY, Alito said 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.” He added that he “never detected” any effort to sway his official or private actions, and if he had, he would have “strongly objected.”
The conservative justice wrote the majority opinions in both Burwell v. Hobby Lobby and Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the case that overturned Roe and wiped away the constitutional right to abortion it had established.
In May, a draft opinion of the decision to overturn Roe was leaked and published in Politico more than a month before the decision was released, spurring a series of abortion rights protests and raising speculation over – and an internal investigation into – who was responsible for the extraordinary breach.
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Abortion rights groups and progressive legal advocacy organizations including NARAL Pro-choice America, Demand Justice and Take Back the Court have called for Congress to investigate the allegations.
“This bombshell report is the latest proof that the Republican justices on the court are little more than politicians in robes,” Demand Justice executive director Brian Fallon said. “Structural reform of the court, including strict new ethics rules, is needed now more than ever.”
If Schenck’s account is accurate it would represent a significant breach of the court’s protocol.
But not all were convinced of the purported leak’s significance.
“There is a world of difference between private leak that Schenck alleges and public disclosure of Dobbs draft,” Ed Whelan, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote on Twitter. “Zero reason to see connection between them. Idea that Alito might have leaked Dobbs draft is bizarre in countless ways.”
Leaks of the outcome of Supreme Court decisions do happen occasionally, though they are exceedingly rare. Even the parties involved in the cases before the high court almost always find out about the outcome at the same time as everyone else – a process that shows no favor to one side or the other.
Contributing: John Fritze