More than 60 progressive groups wrote to two top Senate Democrats on Tuesday urging them to investigate ethical concerns about Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito following a recent report that he shared the outcome of a looming 2014 case involving the Hobby Lobby case with a conservative activist.
The letter, which was obtained first by The Hill, is led by groups like Demand Justice, Center for American Progress, End Citizens United and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
The organizations are calling on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who leads the subcommittee on federal courts, oversight, agency action and federal rights, to investigate the reports surrounding Alito’s conduct.
“Justice Alito’s alleged leak of the outcome of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby calls for a thorough investigation and, if true, constitutes a shocking betrayal of the Court’s confidences that deserves immediate accountability,” the letter states.
The New York Times earlier this month reported that Rev. Rob Schenck, who at the time led the group Faith and Action, said he learned of the outcome of the Hobby Lobby case weeks before it was made public. Alito wrote the majority opinion in that case, which ruled that some companies with religious objections were exempt from requirements that they offer contraceptives as part of health care plans.
The Times reported that Schenck said the information about the case came from a donor to his organization who had dined with Alito and his wife and was part of broader outreach efforts to the justices. Wright denied obtaining or sharing any information.
Schenck has told other media outlets that he was part of an effort to build relationships with conservative justices.
Durbin said in the wake of the New York Times report that his committee would review the matter, but Tuesday’s letter calls on him to launch a full investigation.
The progressive groups behind the letter raised concerns that if justices skirt accountability, they could be unduly influenced by similar pressure campaigns from activist organizations. Their concerns are amplified by the June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, which came weeks after a draft of the majority opinion had leaked to the public.
“It is a disservice to the American people that the justices of our highest Court are not bound by a code of ethics, unlike every other federal judge in the country,” the letter states. “This lack of accountability undoubtedly contributes to the Supreme Court’s historically low approval ratings and to the American public’s declining faith in the institution.”
The letter called for testimony from Schenck as part of any investigation.
“If the Court refuses to do it themselves, then Congress must step in to quickly consider and pass meaningful legislation to bring accountability and transparency to a Court that has evaded it for far too long,” the letter states.
A Gallup poll released in late September found 47 percent of U.S. adults said they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the judicial branch, its lowest point ever recorded by the poll. The same poll found 42 percent of respondents said the Supreme Court is too conservative, the highest mark ever for the Gallup survey.