Conservative Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on Saturday strenuously denied any involvement in leaking the outcome of a 2014 ruling in a lengthy statement issued in response to a New York Times report.
The Times story said that former anti-abortion campaigner Rev. Rob Schenck found out about the outcome of the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling before the decision was issued in June 2014. The 5-4 ruling in a case closely watched by conservatives allowed privately-held companies to object on religious grounds to a provision of the Obamacare law that requires employers to provide health insurance that includes Contraception coverage.
Schenck told the Times that he learned about the outcome soon after a couple he knew had dinner with Alito, who authored the Hobby Lobby ruling, and his wife, Martha-Ann.
Alito said in a statement obtained by NBC News that any suggestion that he or his wife leaked the outcome of the ruling is “completely false.”
He said he and his wife knew the couple in question — Donald and Gayle Wright — because of their involvement in the Supreme Court Historical Society, a private nonprofit group that holds events that sometimes feature justices. Schenck told the Times that the Wrights were part of his effort to gain access to the inner sanctum of the court to learn about its operations by playing on the conservative Christian religious faith of some of the justices.
The court has a 6-3 conservative majority that strongly favors religious rights and frequently rules in favor of conservative Christian interests.
“I never detected any effort on the part of the Wrights to obtain confidential information or influence anything that I did in either an official or private capacity and I would have strongly objected if they had done so,” Alito said. He added that he would be “shocked and offended” if Schenck’s claims about his efforts to infiltrate the court were true.
Gayle Wright told the Times she did not obtain or pass along any information to Schenck, who has since become a supporter of abortion rights. The Times story referenced an email Wright sent to Schenck after the dinner in which she allegedly said she had some “interesting news.”
Schenck and Wright could not immediately be reached for comment.
The Times report comes just months after a draft opinion written by Alito signaling that the Supreme Court would overturn the landmark Roe v. The Wade abortion rights ruling was leaked to Politico in May. The court in June ultimately ruled 5-4 to overturn Roe.
The leak, in addition to the backlash to the abortion ruling, has led to increased scrutiny on the inner workings of the court. Chief Justice John Roberts announced in May that he had launched an investigation into the leak but there has been no update since.
Meanwhile, liberal members of the court have suggested that the court risks undermining its legitimacy by abruptly unraveling decades of precedent.