Judiciary Democrats accuse Supreme Court of dodging questions about alleged 2014 leak

Sheldon Whitehouse, Richard Blumenthal, Hank Johnson
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, center, speaks to reporters about the Supreme Court and if they should have a code of ethics, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, April 6, 2022, as Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., left, and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ala., right, look on. (AP Photo/Mariam Zuhaib) Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Judiciary Democrats accuse Supreme Court of dodging questions about alleged 2014 leak

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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), chairmen of the Senate and House Judiciary Courts Subcommittees respectively, accused the Supreme Court‘s attorney of failing to “substantively answer” their questions about allegations of a 2014 high court leak.

The lawmakers said the high court’s counsel, Ethan Torrey, failed to adequately answer their inquiry about a New York Times report alleging Justice Samuel Alito told people about the outcome of a 2014 opinion weeks before it was released. The justice has vehemently denied such allegations, and Torrey told the lawmakers Monday there is “nothing to suggest” Alito violated ethics standards in the alleged events.

SUPREME COURT SAYS ‘NOTHING TO SUGGEST’ ALITO LEAKED 2014 DECISION

The court’s response comes after Whitehouse and Johnson wrote to the Supreme Court last week calling for answers to questions about “apparent ethical lapses related to an outside influence campaign targeting Republican-appointed justices,” the lawmakers told the Washington Examiner.

“Through legal counsel, the Supreme Court reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions. The Court’s letter is an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues,” the pair of lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers sent a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts in September, requesting information about a so-called “right-wing religious” lobbying effort referred to as “Operation Higher Court” they believe aimed to influence the justices. They claim a Nov. 7 response to the September letter also did not adequately address their questions.

Following the high court’s response, the New York Times published a story featuring Rev. Rob Schenck, a former evangelical anti-abortion lobbyist who has since changed his position in favor of allowing abortion after regretting his prior activism.

Schenck alleged a family close to Alito had received information about the outcome of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby opinion, saying the transfer of verbal information is how Schenck came to find out about the opinion weeks in advance. The report prompted the lawmakers to draft another letter to the high court on Nov. 20.

While several circumstantial events make it appear that Schenck knew about the opinion before it was released, Politico noted its reporters spent several months attempting to corroborate his claims and were “unable to locate anyone who heard about the decision directly from either Alito or his wife before its release at the end of June 2014.”

Whitehouse and Johnson’s dissatisfaction with Torrey’s response comes months after they introduced the Supreme Court Ethics, Recusal, and Transparency Act to enforce stronger standards of ethics among justices, as well as “governing disclosure of gifts and travel paid for by outside parties.”

While Democratic leadership on the judiciary committees has been interested in learning more about Schenck’s claims, Republicans for months called on the high court to release details about the draft opinion that also leaked from the high court in May, signaling the overturning of Roe v. Wade nearly a month before the official ruling was released. Alito authored the 6-3 opinion that allowed states to severely limit or restrict abortion access.

The Washington Examiner has contacted several GOP members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Whitehouse and Johnson’s interest in investigating the allegations by Schenck but has not heard back from lawmakers including Sens. Ted Cruz (TX), Josh Hawley (MO), and Lindsey Graham (SC).

Jim Jordan (R-OH), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, claimed last week that Democrats have attacked Alito for authoring the abortion opinion while ignoring “any real investigation into who leaked the Dobbs opinion.”

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“All politics,” Jordan tweeted.

Roberts called for an investigation into the leaked draft opinion in May. Despite significant efforts to find the source of the leak, such as requesting clerk cellphone records and asking court staff to sign sworn affidavits, no substantial updates have been provided about the progress of the investigation.

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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