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Saturday, November 19, 2022

Another Supreme Court Leak?

 Jodi Kantor and Jo Becker at NYT:
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.

Both court decisions were triumphs for conservatives and the religious right. Both majority opinions were written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. But the leak of the draft opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion was disclosed in the news media by Politico, setting off a national uproar. With Hobby Lobby, according to Mr. Schenck, the outcome was shared with only a handful of advocates.

Mr. Schenck’s allegation creates an unusual, contentious situation: a minister who spent years at the center of the anti-abortion movement, now turned whistle-blower; a denial by a sitting justice; and an institution that shows little outward sign of getting to the bottom of the recent leak of the abortion ruling or of following up on Mr. Schenck’s allegation.

The evidence for Mr. Schenck’s account of the breach has gaps. But in months of examining Mr. Schenck’s claims, The Times found 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.

Mr. Schenck, 64, has shifted his views on abortion in recent years, alienating him from many of his former associates, and is trying to re-establish himself, now as a progressive evangelical leader. His decision to speak out now about the Hobby Lobby episode, he said, stems from his regret about the actions that he claims led to his advance knowledge about the case.

“What we did,” he said, “was wrong.”

Supreme Court justices mostly police themselves, which Mr. Schenck said he exploited. While they are subject to the same law on recusals as other federal judges, they are not bound by the ethics code that applies to the rest. (Chief Justice Roberts has said they “consult” it.) Under court norms, they can socialize with lawyers or even parties with interests before them, as long as they do not discuss pending cases.

“I saw us as pushing the boundaries of appropriateness,” Mr. Schenck said.