(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Supreme Court’s top legal adviser on Monday defended Justice Samuel Alito after top Democrats on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees had publicly raised concerns about Alito’s alleged ethics lapses, which Alito strongly denied.
“There is nothing to suggest Justice Alito’s actions violated ethics standards,” the court’s counsel, Ethan V. Torrey, wrote in a letter to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.
The lawmakers had demanded answers from the court after a former anti-abortion activist, Rev. Rob Schenck, told The New York Times that he had received advance word on a 2014 opinion authored by Alito from a wealthy couple who had dined with the justice and his wife.
Schenck claimed Alito was the source of the leak.
He said he relayed this account to Chief Justice John Roberts in a letter after the court opened an investigation into the bombshell leak of a draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which five of the court’s conservative justices decided to end the constitutional right to abortion.
The Dobbs draft opinion was leaked and reported first by Politico in May before it was released by the Supreme Court on June 24. Alito was also the author of that majority opinion as he was in the 2014 case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allowed some private companies to refuse contraception coverage to employees on religious grounds.
Alito flatly denied Schenck’s accusation.
Torrey, the court’s legal counsel, reiterated the denial on his behalf in Monday’s letter, calling the allegation “uncorroborated.”
He also cited federal ethics code to explain why, in the justice’s view, the social dinner Schenck described was not inappropriate.
Judges are allowed to “maintain normal personal friendships,” Torrey wrote.
The letter was made public by the Supreme Court in response to questions about the lawmakers’ request but is unlikely to quell calls from critics for new regulations.
“Recent reporting by the New York Times … only deepens our concerns about the lack of adequate ethical and legal guardrails at the Court,” Johnson and Whitehouse wrote in a letter last week.
The justices are largely self-policing when it comes to ethics matters and are not bound by an enforceable ethics code.
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