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Dems take a keen interest in another alleged Supreme Court breach

A religious right insider claims he knew the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case before it was announced. Democrats are deeply interested in the allegations.

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The Rev. Rob Schenck was a prominent culture warrior in the religious right for many years, before growing disillusioned with the movement and distancing himself from his former far-right allies. His most provocative move, however, came earlier this month. The New York Times reported:

As the Supreme Court investigates the extraordinary leak this spring of a draft opinion of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a former anti-abortion leader has come forward claiming that another breach occurred in a 2014 landmark case involving contraception and religious rights. In a letter to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and in interviews with The New York Times, the Rev. Rob Schenck said he was told the outcome of the 2014 case weeks before it was announced. He used that information to prepare a public relations push, records show, and he said that at the last minute he tipped off the president of Hobby Lobby, the craft store chain owned by Christian evangelicals that was the winning party in the case.

According to the Times’ reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case — a ruling written by Justice Samuel Alito — “was shared with only a handful of advocates.”

The article added that there’s “a trail of contemporaneous emails and conversations that strongly suggested he knew the outcome and the author of the Hobby Lobby decision before it was made public.”

The fact that Alito’s draft ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was leaked to Politico was a major development, but the allegations from Schenck are a qualitatively different kind of story: If his claims are accurate, it suggests there was another leak about another Alito ruling, not to journalists, but to select conservatives.

The pushback was immediate. The day the article was published, Alito told NBC News that any suggestion that he or his wife leaked the outcome of the ruling is “completely false.”

This apparently did not prove persuasive to Capitol Hill skeptics. Politico reported last week on two key congressional Democrats who want to know what, if anything, Chief Justice John Roberts has done in response to the allegations.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) ... wrote to Roberts on Sunday, making clear that if the court won’t investigate the alleged ethical breaches, lawmakers are likely to launch their own probe.

This week, the story advanced when Ethan Torrey, the Supreme Court’s own legal counsel insisted anew that Alito was not responsible for any disclosures and did not violate ethics standards.

The Democratic lawmakers appeared unimpressed.

“Through legal counsel, the Supreme Court reiterated Justice Alito’s denials but did not substantively answer any of our questions,” Whitehouse and Johnson responded in a written statement. “The Court’s letter is an embodiment of the problems at the Court around ethics issues. Unlike all other federal courts, there is no formal process for complaints; it took a Senator’s and a Congressman’s repeated letters to galvanize a response.

“Unlike all other federal courts, there is no formal process for fact-finding inquiry. The assertions of fact by the Court’s lawyer emerge from darkness, and overlook important facts like all the contemporaneous evidence that Mr. Schenck in fact knew both the outcome and author in advance and acted at that time on that knowledge.”

If Alito and Roberts are hoping the story will quietly fade away, they’re likely to be disappointed: Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin has said his panel is reviewing the controversy. Hearings in the next Congress are a distinct possibility.