That 2014 SCOTUS leak may never have happened

We’re still hearing tales this month about a leak from the Supreme Court, but not the one from over the summer involving Roe. In case you missed the latest one, it involved a letter sent to Chief Justice John Roberts from Reverend Rob Schenck, an evangelical activist who claimed that he knew about the outcome of the 2014 case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. He claimed to have been told about the pending decision by a family friend of Justice Samuel Alito and his wife. The letter appears to be authentic, but the contents of it may not hold up under closer scrutiny. (CNN)

A former evangelical activist claimed in a letter to the Chief Justice of the United States that he knew about the outcome of a 2014 Supreme Court decision involving contraception and the Affordable Care Act by the court prior to the formal announcement, according to The New York Times.

Rev. Rob Schenck wrote in the letter this summer to Chief Justice John Roberts, which was originally obtained by the Times, that he was informed by a wealthy political donor, Gayle Wright, about the verdict of the ruling prior to it coming out.

According to the letter dated in June of this year but not sent until the following month, Wright had dinner with Justice Samuel Alito and his wife and spoke of the upcoming ruling at the time.

So Gayle Wright is supposedly the person who was given advance information about the decision while having dinner with the Alitos at their home. She then reportedly passed the information on to Schenck, who did nothing more with it so the early decision wasn’t released in the press at that time.

But did it really happen? Justice Alito is denying the story, calling it “completely false.” Similarly, Ms. Wright is labeling it as “unbelievably misconstrued.” However, a source familiar with Schenck who claims to have seen the letter confirmed the details supposedly written in it. So what are we to make of this?

Perhaps Schenck was making this up, but why? And to what purpose would he have sent such a letter to Roberts? If he’s being truthful, that means that Alito and Wright are throwing him under the bus to bury the story. Since the leak (if it happened) never made it out into the media, does it really matter at this point?

Perhaps the larger question to be addressed here is why leaks from the Supreme Court about upcoming decisions are so completely verboten. This rejection of leaks is actually only a tradition, though it certainly gets treated in the press as if it has the force of law. I’ve never been entirely sure why that is, though.

Information leaks in Washington all of the time and from both the legislative and executive branches. Sometimes they happen because whistleblowers want to reveal wrongdoing, but many leaks are just a way for people to get things out into the press (for their own purposes) without having their names attached to it.

A leak from the Supreme Court about an upcoming decision could be treated the same as any other leak. With no name attached to it, everyone is free to take it as they wish. If the official decision turns out to be different, then the leak was fake. If it matches, then it was accurate information. In the end, only the final, official decision goes into the books and the laws of the nation.

So why do we treat information at the highest level of the judicial branch so differently? The leak of Alito’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization certainly caused a considerable ruckus and there were riots in the streets for months. But does anyone honestly think there wouldn’t have been riots all summer if the decision had been kept under wraps until the “official” release by the court? What’s really the difference at the end of the day?



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